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Volume 22 





At the foot or the cross 

where Divine Fvllness 

povrs forth 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

CARLI: Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois 


Volume 22 2005 


Published by the Nuns of the Order of Preachers of North America 

Volume 22 2005 ISSN 1527-263X 

Sr. Mary John, O.P., Lufkin, TX 


Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P., Farmington Hills, Ml Coordinator 
Sr. Mary Dominic, O.P., Elmira, NY Sr. Mary of the Savior, O.P., Farmington Hills, Ml 

Dominican Monastic Search is a spiritual and theological review written by the nuns. 
Its purpose is to foster the contemplative life by sharing of insights gained from prayer and 
study. It is published once a year as a service to the nuns of North America. It is also 
available to the wider Dominican Family and others upon request. A donation of $10.00 to 
aid in the cost of printing would be appreciated, when possible, from non-members. 

Dominican Monastic Search welcomes all its readers to contribute articles for 
publication. We ask that manuscripts be prepared with concern for literary and intellectual 
quality. Appropriate subjects include scripture, theology, philosophy, spirituality, Dominican 
Life and the liberal arts insofar as they contribute to our Dominican vocation. Serious poetry 
reflective of these categories may also be submitted, though only a small amount can be 
used. A theme for each issue is usually announced in advance, but is not intended to limit 
the scope of the articles. Before submitting a manuscript, please refer to the page of 
guidelines at the end of the most recent issue of DMS. 

Articles for publication and general correspondence should be sent to: 

Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P. 
Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament 
29575 Middlebelt Rd. 
Farmington Hills, Ml 48334-2311 
E-mail: mvincentopl 1 5(a) 

Donations and additions/changes for the mailing list should be sent to Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P. 
at the same address above. Make checks payable to Conference of Dominican Nuns. 


All Rights Reserved 


Editorial .1 


Papers Presented at the Fifth General Assembly of the 

Conference of Nuns of the Order of Preachers in the U.S.A. 

Mary Immaculate Center, Northhampton, PA, September 14-24, 2004 

A Life Harmoniously Ordered to the Continual Remembrance of God 

Donald Goergen, O.P 3 

Heaven and Earth Embrace 

Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P 11 

The Birth of the Word in the Soul 

Dr. Douglas Burton-Christie 20 

Holiness, Simplicity and Communio in Dominican Monastic Life 

John Corbett, O.P 31 

"Eat the Book" 

Study in the Lives of Dominican Preachers and Contemplatives 

Paul Murray, O.P 41 

Dominicans and Happiness 

Paul Murray, O.P 65 

The Gift of Sadness in the Contemplative Life 

Donald Goergen, O.P 79 

Impressions and Advice "What's It All About, Anyway?" 

Elizabeth McDonough, O.P 91 

The Second Youngest - Poem 

Paul Murray, O.P 97 

Eooa End of Assembly Papers --Sisters' Papers Follow eocs 


The Mystery of a Religious Vocation 

Sr. Rose Dominic, O.P., Summit, NJ 98 

Dominican Monastic Values: A Personal Witness 

Sr. Marie Tersidis, O.P., Lukfin, TX 104 

The "Pleiades" and the "God of War" in a Dominican Sky 

Sr. Mary Regina, O.P., Lufkin, TX 111 

Dominican Missionary Preachers To the New World 

Sr. Mary Regina, O.P., Langley, BC 116 

"Sub Tuum Praesidium" 

Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, O.P., Marbury, AL 125 

Blessed in Christ With the Fullness of God 

Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P., Farmington Hills, Ml 141 


Guidelines for Contributors 157 


This issue of Dominican Monastic Search traditionally presents all the talks given at the 
Dominican General Assembly of 2004. The Assembly topic A Life Harmoniously Ordered to 
the Continual Rememberance of God was amply reflected upon by each guest speaker. The 
lectures were outstanding and truly profound. 

Fr. Donald Goergen, O.P., our Priest Consultant at the time, Regent of Studies for the 
Central Province, reflected on the Theme of the Assembly: Harmony, order, the balance 
between extremes which purity of heart achieves and doublemindedness disrupts. 
Remembering God as the One Thing Necessary. In prayer, in study, in work, in our sisters. All 
is revelation if we are in harmony, in peace to see and remember. 

Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. President of the Society for Catholic Liturgy and member of 
the Dominican Interprovincial Liturgical Commission, in his talk "Heaven and Earth Embrace" 
stressed that "the new moment of renewal concerns a true vision of Dominican Contemplative 
life," and "how one finds her way to God through a life of divine worship and the life of virtue." 
The nuns' life, to be lived fully, means that they know who they are, what is their purpose, what 
are their means. Within the great river that is the Liturgy and the immense Passover of God's 
people Dominicans celebrate, remember and are transformed. 

Writer and professor, Dr. Douglas Burton-Christie carefully, delicately delineated the will 
and work of God to bring about "The Birth of the Word in the Soul." "Perhaps he could yet learn 
to live in that great immensity, without fear, with joy." Extensively using Meister Eckhart as 
guide, he gave encouragement in the long, arduous way, through "the inside, outside, up and 
down, now and then." The purpose of God is only that ultimately we be filled with Him. "God 
must give either everything or nothing." 

Fr. John Corbett, O.P., Professor of Moral Theology at the House of Studies in 
Washington, DC in "Holiness, Simplicity and Communio in Dominican Monastic Life" takes us 
into a study of the nature of God: God as holy, as other, as one. If God has no parts, yet he 
shares what he is - beatitude - and that is a call to communion with him and with others. He 
calls to us that we might call to him: "Create a clean heart in me, O God," that I might become of 
a piece. "Holiness is about becoming one thing, not many things." 

In "Study in the Lives of Dominican Preachers and Contemplatives" by Fr. Paul Murray, 
O.P., Vice-Rector of the Angelicum, writer and poet, Father moves through the centuries, 
considering Dominic and our saints to see what was the place and value of study to them. The 
driving force in their study was a great desire to know God and the things of God. "The 
intelligence can only be led by desire... " 

Are we grim, glum people? Then read Fr Paul Murray's talk "Dominicans and 
Happiness." Father's theme of happiness is a compelling study and happy journey through the 
history of our Order, of mystical texts and of the writing of St. Thomas. "Thomas, like the great 
Augustine, refuses to have the question of happiness set aside. For both men, morality begins 
with happiness, and is a search of happiness." 

The way to true happiness is through the purification of sadness. Fr Don Goergen, in 
"The Gift of Sadness in the Contemplative Life" encourages us in the mysterious ways of God 
which often are as a cloud of sadness and a journey into darkness. "What we learn in 
contemplative living is that holiness, wholeness, in the end is so often sadness, suffering, 
surrender, self-emptying, receiving grace, gift... the gift of mercy and joy." 

Sr. Elizabeth McDonough, O.P., holding a Doctorate in Canon Law and a Licentiate in 
Sacred Theology, as consultant to the Conference offers wide experience and wise advice in 
"What's It All About, Anyway?" Sister's presentation reflects both genuine esteem for Dominican 
monastic life and practical awareness of its day-to-day lived realities. At the close of the 
Assembly she gathers up its reflections, concerns and hopes in a lighthearted, but acutely 
accurate survey of "life at the ranch" asking "how does God ever get to us despite our cleverly 
concocted, conscious or unconscious plans not to let him daily disrupt our world?....He does!" 

This issue of DMS offers five papers submitted by Dominican Nuns. They, in their own 
way, dwell upon the sources and fruits of "A Life Harmoniously Ordered..." 

It is fitting to begin with "The Mystery of a Religious Vocation" which takes us to the Love 
that has called us "before the foundation of the world" to belong to God through a special 
consecration. A seasoned senior, Sr. Rose Dominic reflects on the restless longing of the 
human heart, the mysterious action of God's attraction and the free response of the person to the 
fullness of life that Jesus revealed. 

A first-time contributor to DMS, Sr. Marie Tersidis in "Dominican Monastic Values: A 
Personal Witness," shares the light and courage and joy she has found. "Perfect charity... this is 
the truth we seek; the truth we desire to behold, experience, teach and manifest by the witness 
of our enclosure, common life, prayer and study." 

In "The Pleiades and the God of War in a Dominican Sky" Sr. Mary Regina invites us to 
study the stars and the planets, not only those in the heavens, but shining in our Dominican 
family. Dominic's ceaseless prayer was blest by a "shining" - the Signadou. The nuns are the 
fruit, and should be the hidden prayer and offering Dominic desired for the labors and sufferings 
of the Church, the Order and all the world. 

Dominic had ever looked upon the world with the longing of a missionary. His desire was 
fulfilled in his followers. In "Dominican Missionary Preachers to the New World" Sr. Mary Regina 
of Langley tells the story of the great missionary effort of many holy Dominicans. In the enduring 
witness of their heroic service to those in bondage comes the urgent appeal to us: Work "to 
save those enslaved and in dire misery." 

"Sub tuum praesidium" by Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart of Marbury is an exposition of 
the nature and effects of consecration in the light of our Master General's renewal of the 
Consecration of the Dominican Order to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The holiness of harmony 
and prayer should be "the fragrance [that] will fill the whole Order." 

Dominic was a man who loved and studied St. Paul's letters. We can wonder what was 
the great Apostle's transfiguring impact on him. "Blessed in Christ with the Fullness of God" is 
Sr. Mary Vincent's commentary on Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. He was a man in prison but 
never imprisoned. In Christ fullness is our destiny - to be lived and shared. 

We thank our speakers and writers for offering us the truth that saves and sets free. I 
want to thank my co-editors, Sr. Mary Dominic and Sr. Mary of the Savior for their unstinting, 
intelligent help, and also, Sr. Clara Marie for her boundless expertise as our Production 
Assistant. May we, as one, enter the Passover Mystery through "A Life Harmoniously Ordered to 
the Continual Remembrance of God." 

Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P. 

Coordinating Editor 

Farmington Hills, Ml 



Donald Goergen, O.P. 
Province of St. Albert the Great 

We read in the Book of Constitutions of the Nuns, in the first distinction on the life of 
the sisters: 

The nuns should keep before their eyes by day and by night Christ the 
Lord.... (74:1). 

They should also remember the exhortations of the Apostle: "Pray without 
ceasing".... (74:11). 

Imitating blessed Dominic as he imitated Christ (cf. I Cor 4:16), they should 
perpetuate his "fervor and spirit of prayer;" for "he celebrated the whole Divine 
Office with great devotion;" "was tireless in prayer".... (74:lll). 

Therefore, the whole life of the nuns is harmoniously ordered to preserving 
the continual remembrance of God (74:IV). 

We come together these days calling to mind these words -- the theme of the 
Assembly -- as we pray both privately and in common; study, reflect and learn with minds 
open to truth; and do the work at hand for the sake of the good of our Dominican monastic 
life and for the sake of the Gospel. How will our time together invigorate our monastic 
contemplative lives, deepen our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and strengthen the 
bonds of communion among us? We begin by focusing our attention and reflecting on this 
text from the Constitutions: "Therefore, the whole life of the nuns is harmoniously ordered to 
preserving the continual remembrance of God." The "therefore" suggests that we are coming 
to a significant statement about what Dominican monastic life is all about, its raison d'etre or 
reason for being, namely a life harmoniously ordered toward the continual remembrance of 
God. Two things in particular loom large: (1) harmony, and (2) remembering God. 

The words "harmony" and "order" suggest other words and associations for our 
reflections, like balance, a balanced life, a life lived between extremes, the extremes that we 
can readily find within our world and our church these days, in other words a life of virtue, 
the mean between extremes, that is, a life of strength and courage, a life of integrity or an 
integrated life, an integration of the regular observances with prayer, study and work, an 
integrated or wholesome life, a life ordered to a single goal, in other words a life with order 
in it, a single mindedness or purity of heart. All of these associations are embodied in the 
sense of harmony, the opposite of discord, disorder, disintegration, dis-ease. Harmony does 
not imply, however, a lack of diversity or even conflict. 

Pope John Paul II wrote, in relationship to the Church, "One and the same Spirit is 
always the dynamic principle of diversity and unity in the Church." 1 Insofar as creation is a 
revelation of God and insofar as God is Himself unity-in-diversity, diversity-in-unity is 
necessary to do justice to this Holy Mystery. No one finite perspective or creature can 
manifest what transcends all perspectives and creatures. As St. Paul says, it takes many 

parts to make up one body (1 Cor 12: 4-31; Rom 12: 4-8). The ultimate source and model of 
unity and diversity is the one triune God. 

Ernst Cassirer, a twentieth century philosopher of culture, writes: 

In all human activities we find a fundamental polarity, which may be described 
in various ways. We may speak of a tension between stabilization and 
evolution, between a tendency that leads to fixed and stable forms of life and 
another tendency to break up this rigid scheme.. ..In all this we feel very 
distinctly the presence of two different tendencies -- the one leading to 
conservation, the other to the renovation and rejuvenation of language. We 
can, however, scarcely speak of an opposition between these two 
tendencies. They are in perfect equipoise.... 2 

Both tendencies, at first seemingly opposites, are essential to human life and culture 
-- the one of rejuvenation, innovation and creativity and the other of conservation, 
stabilization and consolidation. They may at times cause conflict or tension, but these are 
constructive conflicts whether manifest in personal life, societies or cultures. These two 
principles need to be held in balance and not one prized to the exclusion of the other. The 
contemporary sciences of complexity have noted a similar phenomenon, that both order and 
chaos are constituents of a dynamic system. 3 Valuing one at the expense of the other leads 
either to stagnation, rigidity and fixed forms or to true chaos and collapse. A living system is 
a delicate balance and not one that is achieved once and for all. That balance must be re- 
gained or re-established continuously if the system is to survive and thrive. The church itself 
can be seen as such a complex system and the Holy Spirit as the source of the movement 
toward renovation as well as the movement toward conservation. Certainly a monastery is 
such a complex system as well, and a life harmoniously ordered is not a life that achieves a 
sense of harmony and well-being once and for all. If it is a living system, both principles must 
be given their due if the vital balance that we call life is to be sustained. 

In response to a question following a lecture by Karl Rahner, he replied, "Some 
people may be given the charism to be an accelerator and others the charism to be a brake." 
Here he uses the metaphor of an automobile in contrast to Paul's metaphor of the body. In 
both cases, however, many parts are needed. An accelerator may never understand why 
there needs to be a brake, and vice-versa, and yet both are essential. As a Dominican 
philosopher-friend of mine, Ralph Powell, once said, "It's hard to see the whole picture when 
you're inside the frame." It is hard to see that others, whose directions and styles may be 
other than mine, are also acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit, 
who sees the whole picture, undergirds both seemingly opposite and at times conflictual 
tendencies. It is not a question of either/or: unity or diversity, conservation or rejuvenation, 
order or flexibility, brakes or accelerators, inhaling or exhaling, but rather the awareness that 
a living dynamic system whether a person or a society or a monastic community only 
survives on the basis of an interactive life-giving balance, a life harmoniously ordered if you 
will. Even death and resurrection are seen as correlative in that way, one paschal mystery 
as metaphor for life but a mystery that comprises contrasting aspects. As Ecclesiastes 
observes: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, a 
time to be born and a time to die;. ..a time to break down and a time to build up;. ..a time to 
mourn and a time to dance;. ..a time to keep silence and a time to speak..." (3:1-8). 4 Such 
are the rhythms in life. Conflict is essential to it. It comes with the diversity that is itself a gift 
of God. It is not a question of whether there will be conflict in living systems but rather how 
the conflict gets resolved, whether the forms of communication are violent or non-violent, 

harmonious or divisive. 

A life harmoniously ordered: harmoniously ordered personally by each individual nun 
who is ultimately responsible for her continuing and permanent formation, and harmoniously 
ordered in the Constitutions that are set down as the guides for us to follow. Is not this 
harmonious order within each of us personally and within the monastery nothing other than 
the purity of heart of which John Cassian speaks? Indeed Cassian's first conference on the 
goal of the monk might well serve as a fitting commentary on Constitution #74. Abba Moses 
therein distinguishes between the goal and the end, the intermediate goal and final end of 
monastic life. That final end is the kingdom of God, but the goal of the monk, the more 
proximate preparation for that end, is purity of heart. It is that after which the monk 
specifically strives in order to achieve his end. Abba Moses counsels: 

The end of our profession, as we have said, is the kingdom of God or the 
kingdom of heaven; but the goal or scopos is purity of heart without which it is 
impossible for anyone to reach that end. Fixing our gaze on this goal, then, as 
on a definite mark, we shall take the most direct route. 6 

Boniface Ramsey comments on this conference of Abba Moses as follows: 

The old man very emphatically relegates even the most canonized monastic 
practices, several times mentioning them specifically by name. a 
secondary position with respect to purity of heart. That purity of heart is not to 
be narrowly understood is evident from the fact that the goal is also referred 
to as holiness and divine contemplation. Contemplation. ..means the fixing of 
the mind on God and Christ in a constant and habitual fashion rather than 
merely sporadically. 7 

In other words, the goal of monastic life is the "fixing of the mind on God and Christ in 
a constant and habitual fashion rather than merely sporadically." Perhaps no one in modern 
times has focused so attentively on purity of heart as has the nineteenth century Danish 
philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in his edifying address Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing 8 
in which he bases his extensive meditation on a verse in the letter of James: "Draw near to 
God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, 
you double-minded" (4:8). 

It is this word, double-minded, that stands out by way of contrast to single 
mindedness. A life cannot be both harmoniously ordered and double minded. "Double 
minded" does not mean duplicitous. That is something else. Double-minded means having 
more than one focus, lacking purity of heart, a scattered or distrancted heart and mind, 
attentiveness to two things or more rather than one. An example of double mindedness 
might be the story of the nun, Dame Morel, during the reform of Port Royal, who was ready 
to give up all her luxuries except for one - the key to her private garden. 9 This purity of heart 
is akin to Eckhart's detachment. 10 Purity of heart is to give one's all without holding back. 
Perhaps you have also heard the story of the friar preaching at Father Ed Ruane's first 
profession who told the young men about to be professed: "Today you will say 'y es ' 
wholeheartedly to God, and then spend the rest of your religious lives taking the 'yes' back 
bit by bit." James's refusal of double-mindedness refuses to accept that there is anything 
other than God and God's reign as the worthy object of our concerns. It is a demanding, 
challenging way of life, but striving toward that single mindedness, that purity of heart, is 
what you have placed in the forefront of your lives as women consecrated to God. It is not a 

question then of "God and " but of "God alone," nothing but God. God is enough. 

This does not mean, as Eckhart's detachment does not mean, a lack of care or 
concern for our world, for others, but rather such a deep and profound groundedness in 
God, centeredness, rootedness, that our care is not apart from God but rather in and 
through God. 11 We love others as God loves them, because they too are "in God," or "of 
God." To love God alone is to love all things in God. We care because God cares, and so 
the care, the compassion, the love do not distract us from God because they flow from our 
love of God. We are single minded because all flows from God as from one principle who is 
the source of conservation and renovation, of unity and diversity, of stability and creativity. 
Double mindedness then is a worldly concern that distracts us from God rather than a 
concern that flows from union with God. Detachment means detachment from all that is not 
God, but all is from God and thus detachment is more a way of seeing and being. 

Whatever words we use, clearly the intent is that we not become scattered, 
fragmented, distracted, busy about too many things (Lk 10:38-42). We are to be focused, 
intent, attentive to the one thing necessary, not living with divided hearts, a double mind. 
There are things that obstruct single mindedness. Paul lists some of them as jealousy, 
anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy and the like (Gal 5:20-21). Those who do 
such things do not inherit the kingdom of heaven nor do they build up the community in 
Christ. Ultimately a life harmoniously ordered is simply a life of charity: love of God manifest 
in one's prayer, studiousness, liturgical life, and in my attitude toward my sisters in 
community, for we can never say we love the one whom we do not see if we do not love 
those whom we do see (1 Jn 4:20-21). And yet community life may well be the greatest 
challenge to purity of heart. For it is difficult to be focused on the continual remembrance of 
God when the faults of my sisters loom so large. The challenge then must be, how can those 
with whom I live become a vehicle for remembering God rather than an obstacle. Can life 
together be an asset rather than a hindrance? 

The second major emphasis in the Constitution that forms the theme of our assembly 
is remembering God. Remember God. Remember: God. Do not forget God. Yet so often 
when we come to community life, even to an assembly or gathering like this, we can forget 
God. We forget that God is the creator of us all, that none of us has been created perfect or 
has come forth complete and finished from the womb, that God in fact does not demand that 
we be perfect but that we love or strive, let us say, for perfect love which casts out fear, that 
God and fear do not mix. How often Jesus admonishes, "Do not be afraid." We forget that if 
we believe and trust in God there is no reason to fear. We forget God's love for each and 
every one of God's creatures simply because each is God's creation, each one is distinct, in 
each one God finds something to admire. 

Remembering: The Eucharist which is at the center of our lives, why do we celebrate 
it? There are many reasons of course, but primarily because Jesus said, "Do this in 
remembrance of me" (Lk:22:19). We celebrate Eucharist in order to remember Christ lest we 
forget. And thus as we come together from various monasteries, let us ask some questions: 

1) What have we forgotten that we need to recall and remember as we enter into these 
days of assembly together? 

2) Have we forgotten who God is? That all lies within God's divine providence? That God is 
a loving and provident God? 

3) Have we forgotten that there is nothing of which we need to be afraid? That the only true 
fear is fear of the Lord, of nothing but the Lord? 

4) Am I afraid? Is it a fear that arises not out of my love of God, but out of my own ego or 
false self or my divided, double-minded self? Is God truly enough for me? Or do I insist on 
both God and ? 

5) Whom have we forgotten? Who are the forgotten ones, the ones whose voices will not be 
heard? A voice that perhaps I fear? 

6) Where is my own life disordered, or lacking in harmony? Where do I need healing, a 
healing of mind, of heart, of soul, of spirit? Can I embrace my own woundedness? 

7) Is it acceptable for us to disagree with one another? Must we all think alike? Is it even 
acceptable if we take different directions? Do we all have to make the same choice? Is the 
monastery that makes a different choice than my monastery less faithful therefore, less 
loving, less sincere? 

8) Does harmony mean having to think alike, choose alike, or is it something deeper, a 
question of attitude, of the bond of charity, the communion of love which even different votes 
on topics at hand cannot destroy? 

9) Do I question the integrity of those at this assembly who think differently than I? 

10) Have I already forgotten about God? About God's love and forgiveness made manifest 
in Jesus Christ? About the Eucharist as Christ's gift to us lest we forget what we are about, 
what he came to teach us? 

These of course are just some of the questions. But they remind us how difficult it 
can be to practice that "continual remembrance of God." For we do not remember God only 
in prayer. We remember God in our study, and in our study we come to know and love God 
ever more deeply and intelligently. We remember God in our work, because our work is a 
manifestation of our awareness that all work is God's work and that it is God's work that I am 
doing. We remember God in the deep and profound silence which monastic enclosure 
makes possible for us because in the end silence is the language God speaks. We 
remember God at Chapter because in Chapter we are invited to hear the voices of our 
sisters, their wisdom, their cries, their love, their anguish. In a life harmoniously ordered, all 
things lead to God. We might say, rather than "harmoniously ordered," deeply grounded . If a 
sister speaks out of her ground, the depths of her heart and soul, she is single-minded, pure 
of heart, for in her depths she "sees" God. 

Harmony exists and persists when there is some common ground . But there is a 
common ground. There is God, whom we remember, lest we forget. Monastic life and this 
assembly is not about us. It's about God. And if there is God, and if we truly trust in God, we 
share that common ground. The source of our commonality, our communion, our 
community, is not one opinion that we all share, to which we all adhere, but one common 
ground, to use one of Eckhart's favorite words. And so a life not harmonious is one that has 
forgotten this common ground, forgotten that it is ultimately God who grounds us, not even 
our common Constitutions or an association. These are not the things that hold us together. 
As the Constitutions themselves suggest, they are only there in order that we might 
remember God, they point us toward God, not themselves. In other words our communion is 
ultimately communion with God. That is what we most deeply share. That is what cannot be 
taken from us. That is what we must remember. Purity of heart or single-mindedness or 
harmony means that we do not place our hopes in other things. In God alone is my soul at 
rest (Ps 62). It is wrong to think that our discussions these days will divide us. Nothing can 
divide us because we are not divided. It is only our forgetfulness, our lack of awarenss, our 
lack of mindfulness or our closed-mindedness or double-mindedness that might divide us 
because then we deceive ourselves into thinking we are divided, we forget that we are one 
because we share a common ground. So the challenge is how to keep our perspective, how 
to remain grounded, grounded in God, grounded in the Truth, with the awareness that the 

Truth is not some thing, but some ONE, that the truth is a truth that loves, as Catherine of 
Siena would affirm, that truth has a human face as Jesus Christ made manifest. The truth 
does not divide but unites, for to know the truth, the truth that makes us free, is to know God, 
and anything that falls short of God. 

That which is an obstacle to harmony seems then to be an obstacle to our 
remembering God with the kind of constancy that God desires. These obstacles are present 
both within us and outside. Disowned portions of ourselves, lifelong wounds and unhealed 
grudges, fear and anxiety, ego, mindlessness and doublemindedness, we could simply 
name here the eight principal vices of which Cassian and other ancients spoke. 12 But there 
are also the obstacles outside: the anguish and pain and struggles of our broken, all too 
human, so often inhumane world as well as lack of civility in our church, inability to disagree 
without falsely judging, the pangs of war, poverty, hunger, discrimination, racism, human 
trafficking of women and children, unemployment, mental illness as well as physical disease: 
so many distractions unless we come at them as God does, with a compassionate loving 

What does it mean to love one another? What would the world, our communities be 
like, if we all did indeed practice charity as our foremost spiritual practice? Catherine of 
Siena, for whom love of God and love of neighbor manifested the highest expression of 
virtue - as well as Thomas Aquinas for whom the virtue of charity was the crowning virtue 
and when conjoined with the gift of wisdom, the highest gift of the Holy Spirit, provides the 
guidance one needs in life - Catherine of Siena spoke extensively about not judging others. 
And why? For a theological reason. To judge others is to usurp the perogative of God. In the 
end, only God can judge. Only God knows the circumstances of a person's life or the 
motivations of a person's heart or the psychic history of a person's journey: ONLY God is 
equipped to judge with fairness and compassion. I will offer you later a lengthy text from 
Catherine's Dialogue' 13 to this effect, but simply call to mind how important and how difficult 
this challenge is. Were we to master it, to be able to refrain from judging others, our inner 
lives would be harmonious. We would manifest inner peace as well as compassion for the 

Even Jesus admonishes us, "Be compassionate as God is compassionate" (Lk 6:36). 
The question sometimes is how. Certainly only through the power and gifts of the Spirit. But 
also we might say by grounding ourselves in true humility. For Catherine again humility is 
the soil in which all the virtues grow, and the trunk or tree is charity. If we want to bear fruit in 
love, we must be deeply rooted in humility. But humility comes only from a mindfulness of all 
that God is - a standing in awe before the wonder of God. 

If I were to ask you, what is the most precious gift that God has given you, 
undoubtedly you would respond in varied insightful ways. At one time my own response 
would simply have been: the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit is Gift, and the one though whom all 
gifts come, including life itself. But if I think further, I would like to say: the gift of being itself. 
The gift par excellence is just being: to be. For otherwise there would be no other gifts, there 
would be no one to receive them. We often fail to appreciate this awareness wherein 
metaphysics flows into mysticism. What greater gift could there be than the act of being 

If I ponder this even further, however, I realize that this is a gift which I share with 
every other creature in the heavens or on the earth, whether mineral, plant, or animal, with 
the sands on the shore of the sea as well as with the waters of the sea itself. Each of us has 

been given our own act of being. This we all share in common. If I indeed have deep respect 
for that gift, if I am aware of the giftedness of that creative act itself and grateful for it, then I 
must hold in awe that gift wherever it is manifest, namely in all of creation. We are all one in 
that we all share the gift of being itself. There is of course the differentiation within creation, 
the almost infinite variety of creatures. Before one ponders that diversity, however, one must 
savor an awareness of that most precious of all God's gifts which we all have in common. 
The wonder is that each of us is, indeed that any of us is. 

At our core, then, is the selfsame Spirit of God who creates and gives life. The Holy 
Spirit is creator and life-giving breath. In the Summa contra Gentiles, Thomas Aquinas 
acknowledged "effects" attributed to the Holy Spirit in Scripture regarding the whole creation, 
and referred to the Holy Spirit as "the principle of the creation of things." 14 At the deepest 
core of the cosmos is God's very own Spirit. Just as my human spirit is the contact point with 
the Holy Spirit, so the Holy Spirit is the contact point for every creature by means of which 
God's creative energy calls it forth into being. All creation can say, "I am," or "It is," or "Let it 
be," because it is a work of the Spirit. All creation shares that contact with the Spirit in its 
innermost depths, at the deepest level of its "within." The Spirit is what holds creation 
together, its source of unity, the ultimate binding force or metaphysical basis of our 
interconnectedness, why creation doesn't fall completely apart. In the Spirit, we are ONE. 

Our love for all creation, for all creatures, our respect for the earth, our love of 
neighbor, our awe before the evolving and expanding universe itself, all these are grounded 
in a heightened awareness that each one of them IS, that each is a creation, a creature of 
God's making, something or someone that shares with us the ineffable act of existence 
itself. To fail to love, to respect, to appreciate any other is to fail to see and appreciate the 
fact that I myself am, that I am who I am. It is to have lost or never have gained the wonder 
of my own being. For to stand in awe before the fact that I am, and to be aware that every 
other creature on earth or in the heavens shares in common with me the fact of being, 
means I cannot not feel connected to them, to the other, to all others. To denigrate the act of 
their existence is to denigrate or disrespect myself, to fail to appreciate the greatest gift the 
Spirit has given me, to refuse to be grateful for the gift of being and the gift of life. It is sin. It 
grieves the Spirit (Eph 4: 30). 

We are held together as a cosmos by the Spirit. Apart from the Spirit there would be 
absolute chaos. The Spirit is the ultimate unifying energy underlying the universe. But the 
Spirit is also the source of the cosmos's lavish diversity and complexity -- its cosmic 
diversity, its biodiversity, its human diversity, its religious diversity -- its cultures, its genders, 
its races -- its quarks, its protons, its neutrons, its electrons, its atoms -- its 100 billion 
galaxies, each with its 100 billion stars. Creation itself awaits a redemption being worked out 
by the Spirit. 

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of 
God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will 
of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free 
from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the 
children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor 
pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the 
first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the 
redemption of our bodies (Rom: 8:19-23). 

There is a future for the earth, for the material world itself, a redemption even for our 

bodies, for matter. For the material world itself is a manifestation of God and the grandeur of 
God. This was Paul's understanding. "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power 
and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the 
things he has made" (Rom 1:20). Creation is already revelation. For Swami 
Abhishiktananda, Henri Le Saux (1910-1973), the French Benedictine monk who came to 
India in 1948 to live a contemplative life in tune with Indian spirituality, this Pauline text 
discloses the cosmic presence of God, "the mystery of creation and the universe as the 
primary revelation of the divine glory." 15 All of creation proclaims the grandeur of God. 

When we find charity difficult, when we find ourselves judging with our egoic minds, 
when we find ourselves not in harmony within ourselves and with the universe and our own 
community, it is because we have forgotten. We have forgotten God. Not only does a life 
harmoniously ordered enable the continual remembrance of God, but continually, mindfully 
remembering God is the greatest assurance that our lives will be ordered harmoniously. 
Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Which is more important? Inhaling or exhaling? 
The truth of the matter is that there is not one without the other. Striving for harmony and 
remembering God are two sides of the same coin and each grows in proportion to the other. 

And so we come together these days primarily to remember God. We came to this 
for the same reason we come to the Eucharist: to remember. The common life, prayer, study 
and work are to be so balanced, integrated, harmoniously ordered, that they help us to 
remember who we are and what we are about. But remembering God also strengthens us to 
live the common life, the counsels, the observances. For apart from God they remain human 
constructs. But in the light of God, they are gifts God has given us to unite us deeply with 

John Paul II, Christifideles laid, Apostolic exhortation on the laity # 20, in Origins 18 (Feb 9, 1989), 

2 Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven, : 
Yale University Press, 1944), 224 and 226. 

3 M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity, The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (New 
York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). 

4 Scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version. 

5 Cf. Marshall B. Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication, A Language of Life (Encinitas, Puddle 
Dancer Press, 2003). 

6 John Cassian, The Conferences, trans. Boniface Ramsey (New York, Paulist Press, 1997), 43 
(Conference 1, IV). 

7 Ibid., 36. 

8 S. Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One thing (New York: Harper and Row, 1956), 53 (Ch. 3). 

9 Cassian, Conferences: in the translator's introduction, 12. 

10 Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense, ed. Bernard 
McGinn, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1981), 285-94. 

11 Cf. Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, The Man from whom God Hid 
Nothing (New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 2001). 

12 Cassian, Conferences, 177-209. 

13 Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, Classics of Western Spirituality (New 
York: Paulist Press, 1980),191-98. 

14 Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles (On the Truth of the Catholic Faith), IV, 21 (Garden City: 
Doubleday & Co., 1957), 120.7 

15 Abhishiktananda, Prayer, a new edition translated from the French (Delhi: ISPCK, 1999), 22. 



The Celebration of the Liturgy in Dominican Contemplative Life 

Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 

The historical account of the response of Dominican Nuns of the United States to the call 
of the Second Vatican Council to renewal, i.e., ressourcement and aggiornamento, will be, I 
believe, a record of sincere study and prayerful consideration as part of a serious review and 
evaluation of a way of life that is ancient in its roots, but always contemporary in its authentic 
expression. The records show that an enormous amount of time, energy, prayer, discussion, 
consultation, research and study were part of the process that led our nuns to the final decade of 
the twentieth century. With the turning of the millennium, Pope John Paul's announcement of 
the New Evangelization, and certain signs of the times, suggest that we are on the brink of the 
next moment in that call to renewal. As Tracey Rowland proposes in her recent book on the 
Thomist tradition after Vatican II, theologians, philosophers and social scientists alike are 
attempting to grapple with the consequences of the cultural shifts of the mid-twentieth century. 1 
The exploration of the meaning of "modernity" and the "modern world" are but one starting point 
for an assessment of this new moment of reflection, self-examination and renewal. 

Thirty or forty years ago the acceptable rhetoric concerning the religious life expressed 
the need for discontinuity from the past in order to find a path into the future. Renewal and 
updating almost always meant leaving aside, omitting, discontinuing. Some serious thinkers are 
today challenging that trend and propose a reading of intellectual and religious history that is far 
more concerned with continuity as the only secure way into the future. 2 

My intention in this presentation is to explore the possibility that we stand before a new 
moment in the renewal for Dominican Nuns in the United States. My beginning and constant 
point of reference will be the celebration of the liturgy. The task of renewal that faces us is not, I 
think, one of changes. It is decidedly more a theological task. It must be a moment of prayerful 
thought and reflection and some serious decision making, but not about furniture, clothing, food 
or going on vacations. The new moment of renewal concerns a vision of Dominican 
Contemplative life, a common vision of Dominican life that will have consequences, perhaps 
even some changes, but only as flowing from a re-appropriation of the vision given to the Order 
and to each community in its unique monastic style in virtue of our profession as sons and 
daughters of our holy father, St. Dominic. 

As my title suggests, it is the theological dimension, the eschatological dimension, the 
mystical dimension, if you will, that is the focus of my remarks: how one finds her way to God 
through a life of divine worship and the life of virtue. One comes to the monastery to be free for 
God alone and to love him in and through one's sisters. "As the rule reminds us, the first reason 
for which we are gathered together in community is to live in harmony, having one mind and 
heart in God" (LCM 2:l). 

As ancient recorders of the monastic life such as Athanasius and Palladius describe the 
life of the monastic community, it is situated in the intersection between time and eternity, 
between heaven and earth. There is always a tension in the monastery - a reaching for the 
divine, the supernatural, the eternal. So much is this the case that the early monks were 
depicted as angelic beings in a garden of charity - an anticipation of heaven. 


It was primarily in the hours of prayer, the cultic worship of the living God, that this 
atmosphere came to prevail or was regained when lost, and it became the locus to which the 
monk or the nun, when lost, had recourse in order to find the way home to God. The life of 
worship and lectio divina begot an ambiance of mystery and wonder, a certain intensity which 
challenged the monk in its demand that he endure this constant awareness of God. Hence my 
title, "Heaven and Earth Embrace." 

In recent years more than a few publications have addressed the issues of contemporary 
cultural directions in the United States, 3 religion in North America, 4 and more specifically Roman 
Catholicism, 5 and even religious life. 6 If the analysis of historians and scientists is to be trusted, 
it is only those religions and religious institutions of clear identity and mission that will enjoy 
vitality and growth in the second half of the twenty-first century. Their evaluation, presaged by 
Richard John Neuhaus more than a decade ago in his book, The Catholic Moment, 7 suggests 
that only two Christian religious traditions will survive with any vitality in the United States to the 
end of this century: Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. Why? Because of the 
clarity of their identity. Their doctrine is clearly defined and stable, their structure is clear, and 
their demands upon their members are clear and considerable. 

It is this clarity of definition and vision that observers and analysts, themselves often 
enough without any religious affiliation, declare to be so important in the shifting cultural sands of 
our time. Our culture and our history suggest the correctness of their evaluation and as the 
attitudes and values of Americans twenty-five and younger indicate, this is already a reality in the 
generation of men and women about to embark upon their life careers. 

This new movement and direction has serious implications for the Dominican Order in 
the United States. Most especially for the contemplative life. It suggests the need to re- 
appropriate the central vision of the Dominican cloistered vocation as it has come to us in 
history, as it is embodied in The Book of the Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers 
[LCM; 1987], as it is governed in magisterial provisions of Verbi Sponsa [1999], and as it has 
been experienced in the last forty years which were marked, at least in the first decade, by 
serious change, reorganization, modification, and even mitigation. 

The issue at hand is not a new program of organization and change, but one of 
rediscovering the vision of Dominican monastic life in its vitality and urgency, and rediscovering it 
as proper and somewhat unique in each community, each monastic family. Reorganization and 
change would be an easier task. What seems to be called for, first heard in Vatican Council ll's 
summons to the renewal of religious life, is for each community to embark upon a serious 
consideration of the values on which their current way of life is based. What is our vision of 
Dominican cloistered life? Do we all truly share this same vision? How can we go about 
revitalizing this vision? Only then can any changes in structure or observance have efficacy. 

In a recent conversation with a group of college women who had visited several cloisters 
as part of their vocational search I heard some sobering reactions. None of the monasteries 
were of our Order. Their comments were telling: the nuns seemed like very nice, kind women 
and genuinely religious, but there seemed no urgency, no real challenge to their life. The young 
women concluded that contemplative life is about middle class women living a simple but 
comfortable life-style in which prayer and devotion are very important. Period. Because I know 
several of the places they visited, I was not surprised. 

Could it be, in the face of current historical and cultural indications, that some monastic 


communities no longer have a sufficiently clear identity? In one case, the women thought that 
Franciscan and Carmelite nuns were of the same religious order, so much alike were they in 
every aspect of their lives, as far as the visitor could see. Lack of clarity might produce a generic 
contemplative life, a generic nun. What might hold a community of seasoned members together 
contentedly may not have sufficient vitality to initiate and sustain new members, especially those 
with different cultural experiences and views. 

As Dominican nuns move to strengthen their identity, recapture the vision of St. Dominic 
and eight centuries of experience, there is no aspect of Dominican cloistered life which can 
serve as the central focus of such renewal better than the liturgy. The daily celebration of the 
sacred liturgy is the theological principle which informs and integrates all the other elements of 
life, for here "the nuns offer a sacrifice of praise to God especially through the celebration of the 
liturgy" (LCM1 :IV) in fulfillment of that priestly character imparted to them at Baptism. "Appointed 
for the work of divine praise, the nuns, in union with Christ, glorify God for the eternal purpose of 
his will and the marvelous dispensation of grace" (LCM 75). With and in Christ, the nun and her 
sisters enter into the heart of God's mission of salvation and redemption, and into the central 
mission of the Order, the salvation of souls through the preaching of Christ Crucified, celebrating 
his paschal mystery and bringing that mystery to our brothers and sisters in the world (laudare, 
praedicare, benedicere). Because "God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son" 
into the world, the nun is not only at the heart of the Mystical Body of Christ in the liturgy, but, 
from God's viewpoint, she is at the heart of the created world, bringing Christ to it in a life of 
spiritual fecundity which flows from her virginal consecration. 

In his influential but perhaps too little recognized work, The Wellspring of Worship, 8 the 
French Dominican Jean Corbon employs the image of the river, an immense body of water on 
the move, with a life of its own, to convey the strength and power of the Church's celebration of 
the Paschal Mystery, what the Catechism of the Catholic Church [1994] calls the Church's 
"sacramental liturgy." This dynamic image reveals the creative efficacy of the Christian liturgy, 
for it is the work of God himself through the instrument of the sacred humanity of his Son, Jesus 
Christ. This is the sole means of his self communication and self-revelation in the world. In the 
sacred liturgy God is acting on behalf of his people, in their midst and within their minds and 
hearts. The work begun by Christ while on earth, continues from his place in heaven, seated in 
glory at the right hand of the Father. The whole mystery of Christ is made present and 
efficacious in the Church's sacramental liturgy. 

Classical studies on the nature of the liturgy have long spoken of the two-fold movement 
of liturgical action: the descending, i.e. from God to man, and the ascending, from man to God. 
It is Christ himself who is at one and the same time the source of both of these movements. He 
is true God and true man and in the mystery of his Incarnation, the hypostatic union of natures, 
he is both God's movement toward us and our movement towards God. It is for this reason that 
we speak of the liturgy having its source in God. And only for this reason can the Fathers of the 
Second Vatican Council speak of the liturgy as the "source and summit of the Christian life." 
Thus, the liturgy is not of our making. It comes to us from God and brings us back to God. The 
celebration of the sacramental liturgy of the Church is salvation and redemption in action. It is 
forgiveness and mystical union. It is deliverance and friendship. It is communion and service. It 
is prayer and the ecstasy of love. It is the meeting of heaven with earth. 

The celebration of the sacred liturgy is the central event of the Dominican monastic day, 
the central act of this whole way of life. The river of the sacred liturgy, the Eucharist and the 
Liturgy of the Hours, flows through the rest of monastic life watering it to life and growth and 
meaning. Without this source, the whole of this way of life is lost, rudderless and open to the ill 


winds of individualism, secularism and mediocrity. When its centrality is acknowledged, in vision 
and in our plan of life, only then can we speak of authentic Dominican contemplative life. It is in 
reflection on the liturgy and what Father Colman O'Neill calls its "sacramental realism" that a 
vision of Dominican cloistered life that is clear, lofty, and strong, emerges. Every aspect of life, 
the observances, the horarium, asceticism and prayer, are all caught in the current of the river of 
life that is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. "Hence the solemn celebration of the liturgy is 
the heart of our whole life and the chief source of its unity" (LCM 75). 

As LCM describes St. Dominic's vision of Dominican contemplative life, Dominican nuns 
are inserted into the long tradition of the monastic life: "The nuns of the Order of Preachers 
came into being when our holy Father Dominic gathered women converts to the Catholic faith in 
the monastery of Blessed Mary of Prouille" (LCM 1 :l). The central activity of this way of life is the 
worship of God. In a turn expressive of the spiritual hunger of his age, St. Dominic fashioned the 
life of his nuns, as that of his friars, around the central moment of each day, the celebration of 
the Eucharist. As Father William Hinnebusch so clearly points out in his history of the Order, 9 
the whole monastic day of the early friars and nuns was organized around the liturgy, most 
especially the Conventual Mass. The daily Eucharist, sung with solemnity and due reverence, 
became the source for the rest of Dominican life, the Divine Office, the observances and the 
attaining of the end for which the Order was founded: preaching and the salvation of souls. The 
apostolic life of St. Dominic was one caught up in the two-fold movement of the liturgy, from God 
to man and from man to God. It is this constant movement from communion to mission and 
back to communion that became the central principle of the life of the Order of Preachers, friars 
and nuns alike. "Regular observance, adopted by St. Dominic from tradition or newly created by 
him, fosters the way of life of the nuns by helping their determination to follow Christ more 
closely and enabling them to live more effectively their contemplative life in the Order of 
Preachers" (LCM 35:l). 

Each observance then, is intended to lead the nun to Christ in the liturgy and to lead her, 
with Christ, to each moment of the day whether it be the burden of manual labor or the moment 
of respite in community recreation. Divinity and humanity are constantly encountering one 
another and in the encounter humanity is divinized and prepared for an eternity of adoration and 
thanksgiving before the living God. The monastic community is to be swept up in the driving 
force of the river of God's glory in the supreme act of thanksgiving and adoration. Each 
observance is part of the flow preparing the heart for a more focused, more sincere share in the 
sacramental liturgy. 

In recent years discussions about enclosure have tended to view it as a restrictive law or 
rule. In the ancient monasteries of both East and West it was first and foremost a tool for 
creating a proper environment for the intense search for God in prayer and renunciation. The 
enclosure provides a space where the celebration of the mysteries can take the central place 
without competing interests and obligations. The enclosure protects the nun's right and 
obligation to be present at the daily celebration of the mysteries of faith. If it facilitates her 
absence or absolves her from a proper sense of duty and obligation, it has been misunderstood. 
Fidelity is little understood in our culture and the necessary restrictiveness of vocational 
obligations often dismissed as rigid and legalistic. No American Catholic who has witnessed the 
current crisis among our priests and bishops can doubt the centrality of the question of fidelity to 
the duties of one's state in life. The enclosure is meant to provide the nun with the means to be 
faithful to the celebration of the sacred liturgy and the pursuit of union with God even though 
other pressing needs exist in the Church and the world. To speak of perfection in fidelity should 
not be interpreted as legalism or rigidity. The Church provides the enclosure. The nun must be 
mature and responsible in maintaining fidelity to it. 


From the point of view of the monastic celebration of the sacred liturgy, silence and 
enclosure are practically synonymous. Both guarantee the nun the proper provisions for the 
daily celebration of the liturgy. The enclosure provides space and time, monastic silence 
provides a receptive heart. The absence of noise, of words, of casual, worldly or trivial 
communication, prepares the nun for the serious impression of the Word of God upon her mind 
and heart, that Word which is "mightier than any two-edged sword." Silence is intended to open 
the interior life of the contemplative to the dialogue with God as the primary conversation of her 
day and night. If viewed as restrictive rather than preparatory to divine worship, silence will 
never become a way of life. 

If your tongue is used to chattering, your heart will remain dim and foreign to the 
luminous intuitions of the Spirit. But if your mouth is silent, your heart will ever be 
aflame with the Spirit. ... Hush your tongue that your heart may speak, and hush 
your heart that God may speak. 10 

The incursion into the cloister of modern means of communication such as the telephone, 
television, videos, fax machines, the use of the internet and e-mail have not yet been adequately 
addressed in their effect upon the life of silence and enclosure, their effect upon the life of 
worship as the central work of the Dominican nun, the opus Dei as St. Benedict names it. When 
the monastic life is driven by the needs of individuals rather than a vision of the life of worship 
and renunciation, there inevitably occurs an imbalance which will result in restlessness of spirit 
and instability. 

From this perspective, discussions about the life of prayer must never be allowed to form 
into a stagnant pool, a break-off tributary from the river of life that is the sacred liturgy. St. 
Augustine teaches that the primary locale and source of prayer is simply to sing the psalms and 
other sacred texts with sincere attention and meaning. God's word becomes the foundation of 
all prayer in the monastic life and it leads one to the ultimate prayer of Christ offering himself to 
the Father in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The raising of the mind and heart to God in the 
monastic life is done in God's own way. Prayer for Dominicans can never become a matter of 
some private arrangement with God, fed and nourished by liturgical celebration. The liturgy itself 
is our prayer and all other prayer is simply the lingering over the action of praise and adoration to 
which the Church appoints us and whose life we nurture in word and sacrament. The presence 
of Christ on the altar in the sanctuary is the source of the presence of Christ on the altar of the 
human heart. Not surprisingly, the prayer focus of early Dominicans was not periods of "mental 
prayer," but the faithful celebration of the Divine Office both day and night, and the daily Missa 
cantata. The post-medieval shift to intense interiority, the post-Reformation focus on private 
mental prayer, and contemporary individualism, can, in combination, divert us from a clearvision 
of the celebration of the liturgy as the center of Dominican life. 

All of the observances are intended to be caught up in the momentum of the river of the 
worship of the living God. In that movement of thanks, adoration and supplication, the vocation 
of the nun and the friar intertwine in the mystery of Christ as proclaimed, celebrated and 
preached in the sacred liturgy. 

An important example of this dynamic relationship of the parts to the whole is that of 
refectory usages and customs. Traditionally viewed as a parallel to the choir, the physical 
arrangement, the graces, silence and reading, the preparation of food and service at table have 
long borne a Eucharistic meaning. "The nuns should keep in mind that just as they share 
together in the Eucharistic Bread, they should also partake of their bodily food as a sign of 


sisterly communion" (LCM 54:1). St. Benedict provided in his Rule for the weekly blessing of the 
refectory "servants," those whose physical feeding of the community would continue the work of 
Christ begun in the Church at the table of the altar of Christ. Sometimes referred to as "the 
second holiest place" in the monastery, the direct movement from chapel to refectory was never 
questioned. The introduction of "self-service" as a mode of monastic feeding is perhaps self- 
explanatory. The practical arrangement of daily meals, the non-involvement of the community in 
food preparation, and the consequent freedom to take whatever one needs or wants is a serious 
shift in the traditional understanding of meals and their spiritual relationship to the celebration of 
the sacred liturgy in the monastic life. Just as Christ in the Eucharist provides for our needs, so 
too the monastic principle of eating what has been set before us expressed a willingness to 
embrace a life of Christological confidence and renunciation. "For the altar of the heart is in the 
end the banquet table at which the communion of the Blessed Trinity is constantly given to us in 
the body of Christ ...." 11 In a similar vein, penance and renunciation in Dominican monastic life 
have a liturgical purpose. Through the intentional self-denial of good and legitimate things, the 
right ordering of the passions is regained and the nun is prepared to enter into the celebration of 
the sacred mysteries with a clearer, more tranquil spirit. A penitential life, one of restraint in the 
areas of food and drink, of rest and sleep, of contacts with one's family and the outside world, 
this pattern of self-denial prepares one for a spiritual flourishing that is fed at the table of the 
Word of God and the table of the Eucharist. Self-fulfillment and self-actualization, such high 
priorities in contemporary culture, must be re-directed to the true "flourishing" of the self in God. 
"In imitation of St. Dominic 'who while he lived in the flesh, walked in the spirit, not merely by 
refusing to satisfy the desires of the flesh, but by extinguishing them,' the nuns should exercise 
the virtue of penance ...." (LCM 61:11). The renunciation of attachments to created things, to 
relationships and to one's own plans and desires, purifies the interior and makes one all the 
more vulnerable to the action of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy. Discipline and order prepare one to 
listen more intently and ponder in a deeper manner than is possible in a life ruled by personal 
needs and desires. Self-fulfillment must become, in Christ, self-transcendence and spiritual 
martyrdom. Penance and renunciation are part of the mighty current of the river of life, the 
sacred liturgy. "By reason of their consecration and the apostolic vocation of the Order, the nuns 
are urged more than the rest of the faithful to deny themselves, take up their cross, and bear the 
death of Jesus in body and soul ...." (LCM 66:1). 

The discussion of these matters can easily become defensive of current practice or 
sidetracked with the rehearsal of the history of how changes and accommodations were made. 
In the business of clarifying our vision of Dominican contemplative life it is counterproductive to 
assess blame or to defend the process of change and adaptation. The challenge of the twenty- 
first century is to take a fresh look at our vocation in order to come to a clear vision of what we 
are about, and consider again the best means to achieve the end we seek to attain. Our interest 
is not moral evaluation, but the recognition of the principle that all the elements of monastic life 
bear upon the life of worship, the celebration of the sacred liturgy. "The nuns offer a sacrifice of 
praise to God especially through the celebration of the liturgy ..." (LCM IV). 

The sacramental liturgy of the Church comes from above, from the pierced side of Christ, 
risen and glorious, and comes to us here on earth to envelop us and begin our journey into 
heaven. Like the swiftly moving river, it catches up into its momentum everything in its path and 
sweeps it along to the great sea of love and mercy, the Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy 
Spirit. The glorified humanity of Christ meets each of us in our humanity and continues the work 
of transformation begun in baptism. Father Corbon tells us that: "The mystical realism of our 
divinization is the fruit of the sacramental realism of the liturgy." 12 The mystical union of the nun, 
of the whole community, rests upon the foundation of the liturgy, "... so that with unveiled face 
they may reflect the glory of the Lord and be transformed into his image from splendor to 


splendor by the Spirit of the Lord" (LCM IV). The transformation of the human person into the 
image of Christ Crucified takes place within the flow of the wellspring of worship. Sacramental 
baptism will find its fulfillment in the communion of the soul with Christ in the ongoing ritual 
celebration of his passion, death and resurrection. "If the heart perseveres, no matter what the 
cost ... it will experience the baptism of tears, which cleanses it of its sins; then it will experience 
the baptism of fire, the baptism of that love into which the Spirit plunges it in the epiclesis of 
faith." 13 

Corbon, much in the style of Andre Louf, makes much of the liturgy of the monastic heart 
that flows from the sacramental liturgy of altar and sanctuary, but these always as the dwelling 
place of God and the visitation of the Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. The longing for 
God and the conviction that one is compelled to spend one's whole life attending to him - that 
passion at the core of so many vocations to the cloister - can only find adequate expression and 
fulfillment in the infallible means of God's self-communication and God's self-revelation: the 
liturgical rites of the Church. "[Tjhey ardently long for the fullness of the Holy Spirit ...." (LCM IV). 
The monastic heart is shaped into an inner sanctuary at the sacramental altar, at the lectern, 
and at the psalter. It is this truth that so influenced the elaboration of monastic celebration over 
the centuries and is the inspiration of Dominican traditions of liturgical texts, expressions of 
reverence, ritual action, sacred song, and the whole panoply of details that go to make up the 
Dominican manner of celebration and liturgical action. 

Several other aspects of Dominican liturgical life might be considered as part of this re- 
appropriation of a vision of the contemplative life. 

In the first instance there is the question of the decidedly monastic quality of our liturgical 
celebrations. What does that mean? It can seem elusive, but in reality is not. It has to do with a 
certain spirit of prayer, recollection, transcendence, the reality of heaven breaking into earthly 
realms, with the numinous, the mysterium tremendum, as Rudolf Otto put it. 14 There are some 
physical elements: pace in recitation and singing; a mood of quiet and no sense of being 
rushed; the style of music chosen for the divine office and the Mass, and its volume and pace; 
the quality of proclamation by reader and hebdomadarian; the physical posture of the nuns; the 
physical arrangement of the choir and the sensitivity to beauty and order; the clarity and care 
with rubrical gestures. These elements go together to produce an atmosphere, a certain 
creative tension where heaven and earth encounter one another, where time and eternity 
penetrate one another. There is a certain other-worldly spirit about monastic liturgical worship 
that is unlike the cathedral or parish celebration. LCM 83 states, "Since the liturgy is an action of 
the whole people of God, participation of the faithful in our celebrations is to be encouraged, 
while their monastic character, as well as the law of enclosure, should be maintained." The 
seemingly elusive "monastic character" must be nurtured and maintained. Observing the cloister 
is a necessary help to that end. 

This brings us to the somewhat delicate issue of the participation of the lay faithful in the 
liturgical celebrations of the monastic community. As you may know, the meaning of "full, active 
participation," a loose translation of participatio actuosa, has become the subject of discussion 
and re-examination in the liturgical world today. Just a week or so ago a long article on this 
subject appeared in the English edition of The Roman Observer, in the recent past whole issues 
of La Maison-Dieu and Ephemerides Liturgicae have been devoted to this topic; in 2004, The 
Society for Catholic Liturgy held its annual general conference on the topic "Active Participation 
Revisited," with Francis Cardinal Arinze as the keynote speaker. The rather simplistic and 
graphic way in which we tended to interpret participation in the mid and late twentieth century is 
being re-examined. Since true liturgical participation is ultimately of the heart, some authors 


the river of life flows into the monastic community, 
obfuscate that dynamic movement? 

Could some of our notions of participation 

For some observers it is remarkable that many contemplative communities have lost their 
acquaintance with the textual and musical tradition of the Church. The loss of familiarity with 
Latin as a liturgical language, the failure to maintain the tradition of Gregorian Chant, and the 
employment of inferior music are seen as symptomatic of a lack of clear identity. I must 
reiterate, this is not a question of making changes but of coming to a vision of the contemplative 
monastic life that is deeply rooted in a tradition and searching for possible ways to make that 
tradition more vital, more hospitable to young men and women who are searching for 
communities where their concern for tradition and continuity will not be tolerated as oddities that 
they will eventually have to outgrow. 

Orthodox theologian David Rose has recently analyzed some differences between the 
practice of religion in the "New World," particularly the United States, with the "Old World" of 
Europe. 15 One of his themes is the tendency of European cultures to live out of their past history 
while Americans are clearly more oriented towards the future. He adduces the demographic 
evidence of an almost non-existent birth rate as symptomatic of this reluctance to go into the 
future. Americans continue to bring children into the world and statistically the birth rate is 
highest among Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. While ours is a secular and pragmatic 
culture, obviously hedonistic, there is yet this strong religious element as well. 

We must go into the future with the confidence of a vision that can be handed on to the 

next generation. "It is God who now makes 
them dwell together in unity and on the last day 
will gather into the Holy City a people acquired 
as his own. In the midst of the Church their 
growth in charity is mysteriously fruitful for the 
people of God. By their hidden life they 
proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true 
happiness to be found, here by grace and 
afterwards in glory" (LCM1:V). 

The strength and quality of this vision, 
its enthusiastic embrace by all the members 
of the community, and their fidelity to it 
in spite of the cost to individual desires and 
preferences is very much the challenge of our 
time. God will make all things new if we 
surrender ourselves to the action of his grace. 

The liturgy of the monastic heart flows from the sacramental liturgy 

of altar and sanctuary/ 
but these always as the dwelling place of God 
and the visitation of the Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. 


1 Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II (London and New York: 

Routledge, 2003). 

2 Anthony Levi, Renaissance and Reformation: the Intellectual Genesis (New Haven and London: 

Yale Univ. Press, 2002). 

3 Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (blew York: 
Simon & Schuster, 2004); Morris P. Fiorina et al., Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America 
(New York: Pearson Longman, 2005). 

4 David Rose, "Religion in the New and the Old World," New Republic [No date given. - Ed.]. 

5 Colleen Carroll, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Chicago: 
Loyola Press, 2002); Peter Steinfels, A People Adrift (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003/4); Philip 
Jenkins [the author refers to historian McGreevy. - Ed.], The New Anti-Catholicism (New York: 
Oxford Univ. Press, 2003). 

6 Carole G. Rogers, Poverty, Chastity and Change: Lives of Contemporary American Nuns (New 
York:Twayne, 1996); John Fialka, Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America (New York: St. 
Martin's Press, 2003); Cheryl L. Reed, Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns (New York: The 
Berkley Publishing Group [Penguin], 2004); Carol Coburn, Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped 
Catholic Culture and American Life (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1999). 

7 Richard John Neuhaus, The Catholic Moment (London: HarperCollins, 1987). 

8 Jean Corbon, O.P., The Wellspring of Worship (New York: Paulist, 1988). 

9 W. Hinnebusch, O.P., History of the Dominican Order (New York: Alba House, 1965 & 1973). 

St. John of Dalgatha, quoted by Matthew the Poor, in Orthodox Prayer Life (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. 
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003). 

Corbon , Wellspring, 1 49 

Corbon, 153 

Corbon, 148. 

Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970). 

See Note 4 above. 




Douglas Burton-Christie 
Loyola Marymount University 

I sit silent. It's still, the entire Buddha- 
realm in a hair's breadth, mind-depths 
all bottomless clarity, in which vast 
kalpas begin and end out of nowhere. 


How long had he been moving through that lonely place, uncertain, bereft, gasping 
for air, wondering whether he would ever experience relief from his torments? We don't 
really know. We only know that he had been brought low, had arrived at the end of 
something, without any assurance that anything new would come to birth in him. Long ago 
he had heard a voice calling to him to live within a great immensity, had set out full of hope 
and longing into its luminous beauty. Now he was moving through that immensity in silence, 
darkness and doubt. He felt like he was dying. Then, without any warning, he sensed 
something: the touch of a word whispering in the silence, light pushing against the shadows, 
a presence. Perhaps he was not alone after all. Perhaps he could imagine beginning again, 
setting out along the way. Perhaps he could yet learn to live in that great immensity, without 
fear, with joy. 

This is how Athanasius's fourth century biography describes the experience of the 
monk Antony waking to the birth of the word in his soul. It is a strikingly honest account of 
human struggle with doubt and loneliness, one that has had an immense influence on the 
subsequent history of Christian spiritual experience and practice. Part of what has given this 
narrative its lasting power is the subtlety and care with which it depicts the struggle to know 
the self. There is no doubt about the depth of the monk's struggle to survive in the immensity 
of that solitude. We sense the psychological terror that comes from having layer after layer 
of the self stripped away without any assurance of what will take its place. Yet, we also 
witness an extraordinary rebirth in the midst of that terrifying struggle. It is precisely in the 
place of naked abandonment that the rebirth takes place, mediated by the appearance of 
Christ, the Logos, the Word. 

Yet one should not imagine that the story ends there. The birth of the Word in 
Antony's soul ushered him across a threshold, into a new world. Not long after this 
experience, he removed himself to a wild and remote corner of the Egyptian desert, at the 
foot of a mountain range not far from the Red Sea. It was here, in an even more intense 
solitude than he had known before, that he would live out his days, digging ever deeper into 
the mystery of the emptiness. Antony's deepening encounter with the Word in that wild place 
would eventually come to encompass everything— his own increasingly transparent self, the 
community from which he had emerged and to which he remained committed even in the 
midst of his solitude, the other living beings he encountered in that place, the throbbing stars 
of the desert night, everything. The Word continued to beckon him, to call him toward the 
center of things, to live in God. 2 


Antony's stony is emblematic of a larger question that every generation of Christians 
has had to reckon with— how to respond fully and deeply to the beckoning of the Word that 
calls us into a place of radical openness before God? It is a question the early Christian 
monastics responded to with remarkable boldness. It is not easy to know why they did so. 
But one senses from the stories that they found the touch of the Word so compelling, even 
irresistible, that they must have recognized in such moments the presence of something for 
which they had long been waiting (perhaps without knowing it). To open themselves to this 
birth was utterly alluring, for it held within it the promise of returning them to themselves, of 
rekindling their awareness of God living within them. And yet there is little doubt that they 
also understood, if not at first, then little by little, that doing so would be immensely costly, 
requiring them to let go of so much-clearing a space amidst the endless claims on their 
affections, on their attention, for the sake of the one thing necessary. They understood that it 
meant dying to everything they thought they knew about themselves-the self, reality, 
God— and being reborn into a place of unknowing. It meant disappearing into an unknown 

The birth of the Word in the soul takes place in the desert. That is the clear testimony 
of the early monks. It is also the conviction of the great German Dominican mystic, Meister 
Eckhart, from whom we have received this beautiful image of the Word coming to birth in the 
soul. I want to consider the meaning and significance of this image, by exploring how 
Eckhart understood this mysterious process and by asking what his teaching on the birth of 
the Word in the soul might have to offer us. Eckhart is in many ways the heir of those men 
and women who entered into the silence of the Egyptian desert and who experienced there 
the transforming touch of the Word in their souls. Although he himself never lived in a desert, 
he understood, in a way his monastic predecessors surely would have appreciated, the 
importance of entering into a place of emptiness before God. His understanding of the 
desert almost entirely metaphorical; he radically interiorized a reality that for the monks had 
also been physical and spatial. Invoking this bare, empty place enabled him to articulate his 
understanding of the quality of the soul and of human consciousness that makes possible 
the birth of God within us. 3 

In what follows I want to consider Eckhart's understanding of this remarkable 
experience in three main movements. First, I will examine his vision of the soul as desert 
place, that is, his understanding of who we are at the root of our being. To grasp his 
remarkable vision of the soul is to begin understanding how the Word, the manifestation of 
God, can come to dwell there. Second, I will explore the issue of practice , that is how 
Eckhart understood the process of actually opening oneself to the birth of the Word in the 
soul. It is one thing to have a sense that the soul is capable of receiving God. It is quite 
another to experience it, to cultivate the kind of consciousness which makes it possible. How 
did Eckhart understand this process? What does it mean to open oneself to such 
emptiness? Third, I want to ask: what kind of fruit does this mysterious experience yield? Or 
to use Eckhart's own language, what are the signs by which one can tell that the birth of the 
Word in the soul has taken place? That is, how is one's life changed? And by extension, 
how is the life of the world changed by this remarkable event? 4 

Vision: The Birth of the Word in the Soul 

"In the midst of silence there was spoken within me a secret word" (Wis 18:14-15). 
This text from the book of Wisdom is the seed out of which one of Eckhart's remarkable 
explorations of the mystery of God's birth in the ground of the soul emerges. It arises within 


a cycle of Christmas sermons in which he considers from nearly every possible angle the 
meaning of God's self-revelation in the incarnation of the Word in Christ. "Here in time," he 
says, "we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly 
in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature" (1). The feast of 
the nativity provides an opportunity for reflecting on and celebrating the mystery of the 
Incarnation. But in typical fashion, Eckhart immediately moves toward a consideration of the 
mystical heart of this mystery, the "eternal birth" which is not and cannot be circumscribed 
by time or place, but which God "bore and bears unceasingly in eternity." The birth of the 
Word in the soul is eternal because God is eternal, without beginning or end. It is outside of 
time, although we experience it in our temporal existence as part of time and history. But 
where in the soul does God utter this word? Where does the birth take place and where is 
the soul receptive to this act? These are the questions Eckhart considers next, employing 
his own distinctive imagery to "locate" the mysterious outpouring of God's word in our 
experience. ". . . it is," he says, "in the purest thing that the soul is capable of, in the noblest 
part, the ground— indeed, in the very essence of the soul which is the soul's most secret part 
. . . Here God enters the soul with His all, not merely with a part. God enters here the ground 
of the soul. None can touch the ground of the soul but God alone" (3). 

Here we see a simple and direct (albeit astonishing) expression of Eckhart's main 
themes, his vision of who God is and what it means for human beings to come to know God. 
This vision can be usefully separated into two main images or ideas— the birth of the Word 
and the ground of the soul-although in reality they are inseparable and Eckhart always joins 
them. The birth of the Word is how Eckhart articulates his understanding of who God is and 
how God comes to us. In this, he draws upon the classic Christian understanding of the 
Logos found in the prologue of John's Gospel, which formed the basis for so much 
subsequent theological reflection on the divinity of Christ. The crucial idea here is the eternal 
and divine character of the Word. The Word is first and foremost an expression of God, God 
present in the world as utterance. In the classic articulation of this idea from the early 
Church, "there never was a time when the Word was not." The birth of the Word, according 
to Eckhart is one and eternal. The ground of the soul is the term (one of many) Eckhart 
employs to describe the soul's capacity to receive and live in God. Because the Word is 
divine, and the birth is eternal, without beginning or end, the soul must, if she is to embrace 
and take in this divine mystery, have comparable qualities. She must, that is, have the 
capacity to live in God. Eckhart is convinced that the soul does indeed have these qualities, 
does possess this capacity. Virtually everything Eckhart has to say about the practice of the 
spiritual life and the fruits arising from that practice depends on the fundamental truths 
articulated in this vision of the birth of the Word in the ground of the soul. One of the lessons 
here is that it matters what kind of vision of God and the soul one has. It matters deeply. 

What is the birth of the Word in the soul? What does it mean? Why does it matter? 
Even before Eckhart gives an account of how he understands this mysterious process, he 
makes it clear that there is nothing more important: "await this birth within you," he says, 
"and you shall experience all good and comfort, all happiness, all being and all truth. If you 
miss it, you will miss all good and blessedness. . . whatever comes to you in that [birth] will 
bring you pure being and stability, but whatever you seek or cleave to apart from this will 
perish. This alone gives being— all else perishes" (15). There is something stark and 
unyielding in these words, an almost Buddhist reminder to his hearers of the impermanence 
of all being, and of the need therefore to detach ourselves from everything that is not God. It 
is God after all that is at the heart of this experience, the gift of God present at the center of 
one's life. It is a revelation of what, until that moment, had been unknown, hidden. "The 


nature of the word," says Eckhart, "is to reveal what is hidden. It revealed itself to me and 
shone forth before me, declaring something to me and making God known to me, and 
therefore it is called a word." Still he acknowledges that for all this, it remains difficult to say 
what the word is, to grasp the immensity of this gift: ". . . what it was , remained hidden from 
me," he says. "That was its stealthy coming in a whispering stillness to reveal itself" (9). 

There is a profound theological intuition at the heart of Eckhart's vision, and that is 
that everything God pours forth into the Word— the very essence of divinity— is also being 
poured forth into our lives. "As surely as the Father in His simple nature bears the Son 
naturally, just as surely He bears him in the inmost recesses of the spirit, and this is the 
inner world. Here God's ground is my ground and my ground is God's ground. Here I live 
from my own as God lives from [God's] own" (117). Here one encounters an intimation of the 
radical fusion of identity between God and us that is one of the hallmarks of Eckhart's vision. 
It is a staggering claim, one that is alternately thrilling and appalling. It feels audacious, even 
arrogant to suggest that we live out of the same source or ground as God. It is dizzying, as 
though one suddenly emerged from a fog and found oneself standing at the edge of a great 
precipice that you did not know was there. And yet for Eckhart, this vision of God pouring 
out everything into the ground of our souls is ultimately a source of comfort and delight. 
"[W]hatever [God] gave [the Son]," claims Eckhart, "[God] meant for me and gave it to me as 
well as to [the Son]. I except nothing, neither union nor holiness of the Godhead nor 
anything else. All that [God] ever gave [the Son] in human nature is no more alien or distant 
from me than from him, for God cannot give a little: [God] must give either everything or 
nothing. [God's] giving is utterly simple and perfect, undivided, and not in time but all in 
eternity. Be assured of this as I live: if we are to receive thus from [God], we must be raised 
up in eternity, above time. In eternity all things are present" (109). 

So: to open oneself to the birth of the Word in the soul is to recognize that everything 
has been given to us, is being given to us through the gift of the Word, that we are alive in 
God, in eternity. It is an utterly simple and encompassing vision of reality, breathtaking in its 
sweep, deeply consoling and thrilling in what it suggests about who we are and what our 
lives mean at the ground of our existence. 

Still, one might well ask: is this really possible? Do we really possess this capacity? 
We know only too well from our experience of ourselves how thin and weak we feel our 
souls to be, how far from God we often feel ourselves to be. How can it really be that God is 
present to us in this way? Eckhart understands and anticipates these concerns and 
addresses them in part by inviting his listeners to consider the true nature of the soul. What 
makes the birth of the Word in the soul possible is not only God's generosity, but something 
in us: "There is a power in the soul," he claims "which touches neither time nor flesh, flowing 
from the spirit, remaining in the spirit, altogether spiritual. In this power, God is ever verdant 
and flowering in all the joy and all the glory that He is in Himself. There is such heartfelt 
delight, such inconceivably deep joy as none can fully tell of, for in this power the eternal 
Father is ever begetting His eternal Son without pause. . . " (74). Eckhart uses a variety of 
terms to describe this power or place— sometimes he calls it the ground, sometimes the 
spark, still other times the apex of the soul. Whatever the name, the reality is that here in this 
secret place the soul is "free of all names and void of all forms, entirely exempt and free, as 
God is exempt and free in Himself. It is as completely one and simple as God is one and 
simple, so that no [one] can in any way glimpse it. This same power . . . wherein God ever 
blooms and is verdant in all His Godhead, and the spirit in God, in this same power God 
ever bears His only-begotten Son as truly as in Himself" (76). In the birth of the Word in the 


soul, says Eckhart, "it is only the ground (of the soul) that is stirred" (17). 

There is a paradox here, or at least the appearance of one: we have something in us 
that is identical or nearly identical to God--a radical simplicity and freedom. It is this that 
makes possible God's birth in the soul. And yet, this place, this dimension of the soul and of 
God, is so deep, so far beyond anything that language can encompass or the mind can 
grasp that "no [one] can in any way glimpse it." What we know about God and about 
ourselves at the deepest level of our being, in the ground of the soul, becomes a kind of 
unknowing. Here we must leave behind all names and forms, everything, that is, that we 
previously depended on to say who God is in our experience. Such names and forms, 
suggests Eckhart, actually obscure God, prevent us from breaking through to a true and 
honest encounter with God. For the sake of God we need to detach ourselves from 
everything less than God. 

Practice: Entering the Desert 

Here we encounter a delicate but important tension in Eckhart's thought. He claims 
that our capacity for God— the ground or apex of the soul-- is fundamental to who we are. It 
is our true identity. There is nothing we can do to achieve or manufacture this. It is a gift. 
And yet, we do not always live out of this truth. Our consciousness, far from reflecting this 
simple and free awareness of God alive in the ground of our being, is instead divided and 
scattered. We are hostage to a thousand distractions and fears and anxieties. We are 
anything but free. In our anxiety, we cling to images and ideas of God rather than to the 
reality of God. But we can learn to become free. We can open ourselves to the birth of the 
Word in the ground of the soul. We must. Here, Eckhart's vision leads to a consideration of 
the meaning of practice — in particular the practice of detachment, the willing relinquishment 
of everything that is less than God. For Eckhart, this means above all discovering the 
courage to enter the bare and empty place within us where the Word comes to life in the 
soul. It means entering the desert. 

Eckhart employs a range of image— nakedness, emptiness, darkness, unknowing, 
barrenness-to get at this central idea, namely that we must be free to receive God, that 
there must be space within us if we are to respond to and live in God. "[A]t this birth," he 
says, "God needs and must have a vacant free and unencumbered soul, containing nothing 
but Himself alone, and which looks to nothing and nobody but him" (20). Eckhart is 
commenting here on one of the great New Testament texts of renunciation, where Jesus 
warns his followers: "Whoever loves anything but me, whoever loves father and mother or 
many other things is not worthy of me" (Mk. 10:34). Like the early Christian monks, whose 
single-minded response to these "hard sayings" earned them the name apotaktikoi , or 
"renunciants," Eckhart gives sustained and pointed attention to these texts of renunciation. 
He recognizes, as the desert monastics did, that a willingness to let go of everything that is 
less than God must exist at the very foundation of the soul. It is the posture of openness that 
makes everything else possible. 

It is precisely this openness that can and often does trigger the sudden upwelling of 
God in the soul. "God must enter into your being and powers," says Eckhart, "because you 
have bereft yourself of all possessions, and become a desert, as it is written: 'The voice of 
the one crying in the wilderness' (Mt. 3:3). Let this eternal voice cry out in you as it listeth, 


and be a desert in respect of yourself in all things." 5 To "become a desert"— what a strange 
and beautiful image. For Eckhart, this is a way of speaking of the immense space that opens 
up within us when we let go of things, become "bereft of all possessions." Not simply 
material possessions, but anything and everything that we substitute for God, including our 
images of God: "God needs no image and has no image," says Eckhart: "without any 
means, likeness or image God operates in the soul— right in the ground where no image ever 
got in, but only He Himself with His own being" (33). This is what it means to enter the 
desert. It means risking losing everything for the sake of God. The desert is that empty, that 

Anyone who has ever moved through such an empty space knows the strange 
exhilaration that comes from recognizing that here, perhaps for the first time ever, you can 
see clearly, breathe deeply. There is nothing obscuring the horizon. There is only 
endlessness. "As for what it profits you to pursue this possibility, to keep yourself empty and 
bare," says Eckhart, "just following and tracking this darkness and unknowing without 
turning back— it contains the chance to gain Him who is all things. And the more barren you 
are of self and unwitting of all things, the nearer you are to him. Of this barrenness it is said 
in Jeremiah: 'I will lead my beloved into the wilderness and will speak to her in her heart' 
[Hos 2:14]." "The true word of eternity," Eckhart insists, "is spoken only in solitude, where a 
man is a desert and alien to himself and multiplicity" (5). The language in this passage is 
suggestive of the immense shift in self-awareness that Eckhart believes is necessary if we 
are to make room for God in our lives: keep yourself empty and bare; follow and track this 
darkness without turning back; become barren of self, unwitting of all things; become a 
desert, alien to yourself. It sounds like self-annihilation. This is not far from the truth. It is 
here, after all, where the carefully constructed and managed self confronts the endless 
horizon of the desert, that a real dying begins to occur. For this constructed self cannot 
easily let go of the images and ideas— whether of the self or of God— that form the basis of 
what we understand to be our identity. We recoil at the prospect of "following and tracking" 
the darkness, of acknowledging how unwitting we truly are. And it is not difficult to 
understand why. What, after all, will come to live in place of this carefully constructed 
identity? Who will I be once I have let go of this identity? There is real terror in these 
questions. We are not inclined to relinquish the hard won creations of our conscious mind, to 
allow ourselves to enter a free fall into what can only feel to us like a bottomless abyss. 

Still, we long for this. We long to live in a larger universe, to cast ourselves out over 
this ocean, to be swallowed up in God. This is precisely what Eckhart invites us to do, not to 
serve some abstract ideal of pure spiritual experience, but so that we may come to know 
God. The only way for this to happen, though, is for us to disappear completely. "Since it is 
God's nature not to be like anyone." Eckhart says, "we have to come to the state of being 
nothing in order to enter in to the same nature that He is. So, when I am able to establish 
myself in Nothing and Nothing in myself, uprooting and casting out what is in me, then I can 
pass into the naked being of God, which is the naked being of the spirit" (42). Here we find 
ourselves confronting a vision of the self in God that is at once compelling and frightening. 
Do we really wish to become "nothing," even in God? It is a notion that challenges every 
category we possess for understanding ourselves and for understanding God. Like the child 
who begins to grasp the idea of infinity, and feels herself both thrilled and horrified at the 
idea of time and space endlessly receding before her, we may find ourselves pausing long 
and hard over this idea of becoming nothing, of passing into the naked being of God. What 
can it possibly mean to do this? How does it happen? What does it feel like? 


I want to consider first the question of "how it happens." Eckhart is mindful that his 
hearers want to understand, even as we do, what is involved in opening ourselves to God in 
this way. And while he does not provide step-by-step instructions, Eckhart does suggest 
ways of preparing ourselves for God's mysterious birth in the ground of the soul. Three 
related themes comprise the central focus of Eckhart's understanding of "how it happens," 
that is, how we come to know and experience God in the ground of the soul. They are 
stillness, passivity, and unknowing. 

Eckhart's insistence on the need for stillness, passivity and unknowing reflect his 
acute awareness of the human tendency to want to manage or control our search for God. 
We do this, he claims, even with our spiritual practices. These practices do have their place; 
there is no question about their efficacy. But Eckhart recognizes too that such practices, 
however worthy they may be, have their limits. They can become distractions, evasions, 
from the central work, which is attending simply and purely to God's mysterious presence in 
the ground of the soul. It is because of this that Eckhart claims that "if a [person] knows 
herself to be well trained in true inwardness, then let [her] boldly drop all outward disciplines. 
. . " (66). Such counsel might well appear reckless, even dangerous. However, it should be 
noted that Eckhart does not recommend such a path for everyone, but only for the one "well 
trained in true inwardness." For such a person there is a greater danger, namely that he or 
she will evade (whether consciously or not) the more difficult and challenging and soul- 
expanding work of being still before God by focusing attention on the comforting rhythms of 
"outward disciplines." Eckhart reminds his hearers, though, that: "our bliss lies not in our 
activity, but in being passive to God. . . It was from his immeasurable love that God set our 
happiness in suffering, for we undergo more than we act, and receive incomparably more 
than we give. . . When God undertakes the work ... the mind should, nay must, remain still 
and let God act" (34). 

It is important to understand that by "suffering" Eckhart means here not the 
experience of loss or pain that this word usually suggests, but rather the willing acceptance 
of something, in this case God's active presence in our souls. So too passivity, which can 
conjure up an image of listlessness or lack of engagement, here means something quite 
different— it suggests an attitude of humility and openness before God, rooted in the 
recognition that God indeed is everything and our own being and identity exists entirely in 
God. Thus, to speak of being "passive" before God, or of "suffering" God to enter our souls, 
are ways of expressing how we disappear and become nothing so that God can fill us 
completely. We must increasingly relinquish, Eckhart suggests, the sense that our activity, 
our thought, our ideas of God and the self are what really matters. To the contrary, what 
matters is letting go of our attachment to such ideas, allowing ourselves to be empty and still 
and attentive. Such stillness is necessary if one is to enter the desert and become alien to 
oneself for the sake of God. "Here," Eckhart says, "[one] must come to a forgetting and an 
unknowing. There must be a stillness and a silence for this word to make itself heard. We 
cannot serve this word better than in stillness and in silence: there we can hear it, and there 
too we will understand it aright— in the unknowing. To [the one] who knows nothing it 
appears and reveals itself" (22-26). 

We should not pretend, and certainly Eckhart does not pretend, that adopting such a 
posture of stillness, passivity and unknowing can happen without a deep sense of 
disorientation. Eckhart describes a feeling of "desolate self-estrangement," of "exile," a 
sense of having been left without support from God that arises and pervades one's 
consciousness in such moments (20-21). This seems to be an inevitable consequence of 


going deeper, of leaving behind images and ideas, of finding oneself moving through an 
immense and mysterious darkness. Understandably, it can create a sense of bewilderment, 
even panic, a feeling that one must do something, anything, to reorient oneself, even if one 
does not know what that something ought to be. Eckhart acknowledges this, giving voice to 
a question from one of his hearers. "If a [person] is in such a state of pure nothingness, is it 
not better to do something to beguile the gloom and desolation, such as praying or listening 
to sermons or doing something else that is virtuous, so as to help himself?" Eckhart's 
response is clear and unequivocal: "No, be sure of this. Absolute stillness for as long as 
possible is best of all for you. . . stand still and do not waver from your emptiness; for at this 
time you can turn away, never to turn back again" (42). 

Earlier in the same sermon Eckhart records an exchange that captures the pathos of 
this situation, the longing to stand in the place of safety and the awareness that one cannot 
do so. The questioner asks: "Am I supposed to be in total darkness?" Eckhart's response: 
"Certainly. You cannot do better than to place yourself in darkness and unknowing." The 
questioner: "Oh, sir, must everything go then, and is there no turning back?" The response: 
"No, indeed, by rights there is no returning" (42, 44). 

It is difficult not to feel for the questioner here, not to share the sense of 
bewilderment at the news that "there is no returning." We want to find a way out, a way 
back, a way of being that is not so precarious, that does not require such vulnerability, such 
trust. But such a way does not exist. There is nothing we can do to soften the sense of 
estrangement that comes from having entered such a space of openness before God. We 
know this. There is even a sense, something Eckhart recognizes and builds upon in his 
sermons, that we do not want to soften it. We do not want to go back. We want to live in this 
space of honesty, openness, truth, even if doing so means abandoning everything we 
thought we knew about ourselves and about God. And so, if we can summon the courage, 
we can learn to remain in that place of stillness, full of expectancy for what is to come. 
Eckhart is clear about how much must be relinquished if we are to live this way. His sense of 
what it means to live in darkness and unknowing, to transcend images and ideas of God for 
the sake of God, is stark and even forbidding. It is not a vision of life that everyone warms to 
easily or quickly. Yet, there can come a time when the experience of loss or relinquishment 
or the sense of needing to break through to a deeper more honest place in one's life almost 
seems to require something this strong, this radical. Then, the prospect of letting go of 
everything less than God for the sake of God will seem not onerous or painful, but necessary 
and liberating. 

Fruit: "Living without a Why" 

To be free, in oneself, in God. To live from a deep place of freedom and to see the 
fruit of this freedom born in every dimension of one's life and the life of the world. Is it really 
possible? One of the things that make Eckhart's vision so compelling and encouraging for us 
is his sense that it is indeed possible. This is ultimately what the birth of the Word in the soul 
means for him: to live from a deep place of freedom and to know God as the source and 
ground of this freedom. Eckhart has a memorable and delightful way of describing this: he 
calls it "living without a why." The phrase suggests a profound, playful purposelessness, a 
sense of living for the sake of living. This is not far from what he means. But there is a 
beautiful and astonishing theological intuition that underlies this idea, an intuition that gives it 
depth and power and lasting significance for us. It is this: when we disappear, become 


nothing, enter the desert, open ourselves to the birth of the Word in the soul, we become a 
pure pouring forth of divinity. Everything we do, everything we think, every expression of 
who we are becomes a simple expression of God. 

This helps to account for Eckhart's deeply integrated sense of how the essentially 
contemplative awareness of God in the ground of the soul flows forth without ceasing into 
our life and into the life of the world. There is no simple division for Eckhart between 
contemplation and action, no sense (at least no simple, causal sense) that fruitful action is a 
"result" of contemplative awareness. Rather, his sense of the transformation that occurs 
through the birth of the Word in the soul is so radical, so all-encompassing that any sense of 
a boundary that distinguishes the self who resides in the ground of the soul and the self who 
acts from that ground dissolves. It is a meaningless distinction. In this place of radical 
transformation there is only one reality, God. Every thought, every action, every moment of 
living and breathing happens in God. 

It is a dizzying vision of life, one in which inside and outside, up and down, now and 
then, seem to flow forth together as part of a single "now" that is also "eternity." This is true. 
For Eckhart, we live now in eternity. That is what it means to open ourselves to the mystery 
of the birth of the Word in the soul. It means living simply and deeply in God. Which means 
living without a why. 

To arrive at this essentially simple awareness involves, claims Eckhart, both a 
capacity to dwell deeply within the truth of God in the ground of the soul and a yearning to 
keep "breaking through" every idea, every image, every name that we associate with God. 
This notion of "break-through," a favorite of Eckhart's, brings us close to one of the most 
disturbing but important elements of his spiritual vision, the need to "break through" to the 
"God beyond God." The deepest part of who we are, says Eckhart, "never rests. It does not 
want God as the Holy Ghost nor as the Son: it flees the Son. Nor does it want God, as He is 
God. Why? There He has a name, and if there were a thousand Gods it would go on 
breaking through, it wants to have Him there where He has no name: it wants a nobler, 
better thing than God as having a name. . . it wants Him as the marrow from which 
goodness comes, it wants Him as the kernel from which goodness flows, it wants Him as a 
root, as a vein whence goodness springs" (99). Not only do we want this marrow, this 
kernel, this root, this vein, suggests Eckhart, but we can actually experience it, know it, taste 
it. We can live from the heart of this mystery. 

Eckhart testifies to this truth in different ways. In one place he says: "The child is 
fully born when a [person's] heart grieves for nothing: then a [person] has the essence and 
the nature and the substance and the wisdom and the joy and all that God has. Then the 
very being and the Son of God is ours and in us and we attain to the very essence of God" 
(67). What does it mean, to grieve for nothing? For Eckhart, it seems to be one of the key 
signs that the "breakthrough" or birth has really happened, an indication that one's identity is 
now so deeply bound up in God that it is no longer possible to make any distinction between 
God and the self. One now lives completely and utterly in God. This sense of living from 
one's deepest center, from the deepest center of God, has practical consequences. For 
example, no longer is one concerned to detach oneself from "creatures" or "images" or other 
things that are less than God. This posture of renunciation, necessary at an earlier time 
when the self was still inordinately attached to all manner of things and blind to God, is no 
longer necessary. Eckhart says, ". . . your face is [now] so fully turned towards this birth that, 
no matter what you see or hear, you can get nothing but this birth from all things. All things 
become simply God to you, for in all things you notice only God. . . " (45). 


Here one begins to sense why Eckhart's notion of the "fusion of identities" between 
the self and God, for which he is rightly renowned, is so important. It gives us a way of 
understanding, as clearly and forcefully stated as anywhere in the Christian tradition, what it 
really means to "live in God." What he describes here is a change so complete, so inclusive 
and so deep that nothing in one's consciousness or behavior can be understood as existing 
outside of God. And this is not merely an idea; it is an experience. To live so that "all things 
become simply God to you," means that one no longer thinks about the "self" as something 
distinct from God, or from anything else for that matter. The "self" such as it is, is so deeply 
identified with, so firmly rooted in God that one can see or feel or know nothing but God. 
Nothing but God exists. 

If this is so, then how is one to live? Eckhart answers this question with astonishing 
simplicity and directness: one should live without a why. "Out of this inmost ground," he 
says, "all your works should be wrought without Why. I say truly, as long as you do works for 
the sake of heaven or God or eternal bliss, from without, you are at fault. . . for whoever 
seeks God in a special way gets the way and misses God, who lies hidden in it. But whoever 
seeks God without any special way gets Him as He is in Himself, and that [person] lives with 
the Son, and he is life itself" (117-118). To "get the way and miss God"— how aptly this sums 
up our persistent and tenacious tendency to mistake the center, the essence for the 
secondary, the peripheral. It is difficult to avoid this. We cling, often without recognizing it, to 
an instrumental understanding of the spiritual life. We act for the sake of heaven or eternal 
bliss or even for the sake of God and in so doing miss God. For God is beyond all ways, all 
means. And it is God we seek, not the means. This is why Eckhart insists again and again 
that we must let ourselves go completely. Only in this way will we come to live not for the 
sake of this or that, but simply and deeply in God. Only then will we understand what it 
means to "live without a why." 

"And so," says Eckhart, "if you were to ask a genuine [person] who acted from [her] 
own ground, 'Why do you act?', if [she] were to answer properly, [she] would simply say, 'I 
act because I act.'" There is something almost whimsical in this exchange, a sense that all 
notions of purpose and value have suddenly evaporated, leaving behind only the crystalline 
traces of the divine. This for Eckhart is who we are, most deeply, when we open ourselves to 
the birth of the Word in the soul. "[A]ll God wants of you," he says, "is for you to go out of 
yourself . . . and let God be within you. ... Go right out of yourself for God's sake and God 
will go right out of Himself for your sake! When these two have gone out, what is left is one 
and simple. In this One the Father bears his Son in the inmost source" (118). 


What are we to make of this astonishing vision of spiritual transformation that Meister 
Eckhart lays before us? Is it possible for us to make sense of it, in the midst of the ordinary 
challenges of our everyday lives? Or is this vision, rare and beautiful as it is, too stark, too 
radical to even consider adopting as our own? I raise these questions because I think they 
reflect the kind of struggle we face when confronted with a vision of God this simple, this 
deep. It is almost more than we can absorb or imagine living into. And this is 
understandable. Who among us, after all, really feels prepared to open up this completely to 
the presence of the divine at the heart of our lives? Intuitively, we sense right from the 
beginning that this is not a game, that to open ourselves even a little is to be invited to open 
up more and more until finally we are left standing naked before God, and before ourselves. 


We long for such intimacy with God. But we fear the vulnerability that it asks of us. 

It may be that the prospect of opening ourselves to God in this way will only begin to 
seem viable to us when we find ourselves broken and bereft and at a loss about how to 
proceed. That is, only when entering into a place of emptiness and vulnerability before God 
becomes not one possibility among others, but the only possible way of proceeding, when all 
our usual means of constructing meaning have collapsed and we are left naked and empty 
and alone. In a desert place. In such moments, Eckhart's radical vision of emptiness before 
God will seem not stark and forbidding but bracing and welcome. A relief. As if someone had 
helped you finally let go of your fear and anxiety and plunge straight into the depths. Where 
you feel yourself being reborn in God. 


I wish to thank Sr. Miriam Scheel, OP, for her kind invitation to address the General Assembly of 
the United States Conference of Nuns of the Order of Preachers on September 17, 2004. I wish 
to thank the members of the Conference in attendance for their warm hospitality and their lively 
and engaged response to the paper. 

Athanasius of Alexandria, The Life of Antony, trans. Tim Vivian and Apostolos N. Athanassakis 
(Kalamazoo, Ml: 2003). 

On the significance of the desert in Christian spirituality, see: Andrew Louth, The Wilderness of 
God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997); Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring 
Desert and Mountain Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Bernard McGinn, 
"Ocean and Desert as Symbols of Mystical Absorption in the Christian Tradition," Journal of 
Religion 74 (1994), 155-81. On Meister Eckhart's use of the desert, see Bernard McGinn, The 
Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart: The Man From Whom God Hid Nothing (New York: 
Crossroad, 2001), 88-93. 

Citations from Eckhart's work are from Vol I, trans, and ed. M. O'C. Walshe (Longmead: 
Element, 1987). [Page references are incorporated in the text. Ed.} 
Walshe, Meister Eckhart, Vol. I, 33. 

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or nearfy itfentieafto Gotf- 

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Gotf's fart ft in tfie souf. 



John Corbett, O.P. 
Province of St. Joseph 

I would like to start by making a few observations about Dominican Monastic Life. 
Dominican Nuns are Dominicans. The word "Dominican" signals a concern about "talk" - 
talk about God. St. Dominic is known for speaking only about God or to God to his brethren. 
And this focus on God rather than on talk about our talk about God or talk about our 
experience of God surely is the most characteristic dimension of the Dominican theological 
tradition. The grain of our tradition therefore lies more in the turn to the object and less in the 
turn to the subject. 

This does not tell the whole story. If Dominican Nuns are Dominicans we need to add 
that Dominican Nuns are Nuns. They are monastics. Monastic life, the life of the monk, the 
life of the nun, in some way actually does signal the turn to the subject. Because monastics 
leave the world in order to see the face of God. That is why they go. They go into the 
desert with their brothers and sisters precisely to experience God. They go in order to be 
purified, to see the face of God, to experience the Lord in some way, to "taste and see that 
the Lord is good." 

A monastic life which went its entire span without any conscious experience of God 
would surely be difficult to bear. It would be a most intimate sharing in the cross of the Lord 
- which is, precisely, the experience of apparent abandonment by God. Therese of Lisieux 
had that experience, but at the end of her life not as the whole of her life. The point of the 
long darkness is not the destruction but the purification of the very reason one goes to the 
desert to begin with - to know the living God, to taste him. And that is a kind of turn to the 

So we have the turn to the object. We have the turn to the subject. We also have the 
turn to the Sister. Dominican monastic life is of its essence cenobitic rather than eremitical. 
This means that the search for God's truth, the search for God is essentially concerned also 
with the search for your sister. 

Fr. Bo Baily had the 6:00 a.m. Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer's on the day they first 
instituted the sign of peace. There was only one person besides himself in attendance- a 
little old lady who was seated (where else?) at the very last pew of that very large Church. 
The moment came for the sign of peace. Should he just wave? No, he walked all the way to 
the back of the Church- only to be greeted with "It's optional, Father." Well, the sign of peace 
may be optional but the making of peace in your communities is not optional. For cenobites 
making the peace between brothers and sisters is not optional. It is the very heart of this 

I remember wanting to be a Trappist for some years before I ended up with the 
Dominicans. I thought that the Trappists spent their nights and days in silent ecstasy. But it 
wasn't true. It turned out that it is really the brother, the person they are next to, who is their 
way of purification. The brother is the "hair shirt." The brother is the one who calls forth love, 
devotion, sacrifice, annoyance, despair, and every other possible reaction to a human being. 


You do not find God alone in the cenobitic life. If you have a cenobite vocation, God has 
made you to find God through each other. That is not optional. That is essential to 
Dominican monastic tradition - your tradition. 

So having talked about Dominican monastic life a bit, now we go back to the first part 
of the title which is Holiness, Simplicity and Communio. We will talk first of all about 
holiness, simplicity and communio in God, because we are Dominican and we are more 
interested in God than we are in ourselves. Then we will see if we can make some 
applications of these notions to our own form of religious life - and if we can see how what in 
God is holiness, simplicity and communio, works itself into our own lives. 

I have three theses to suggest. The first is that talk of God's simplicity is really talk 
about God's holiness. The second thesis is that God's holiness is manifested (which is 
called "glory") in effected communio. And thirdly, God's holiness is mirrored in our own lives 
by simplicity (which is purity of heart), and by peacemaking and reconciliation in our own 
communities. (The last thesis is considerably less controversial than the first one.) 

The first thesis: that talk of God's simplicity is really talk of God's holiness, or to put it 
the other way, talk of God's holiness is really talk of God's simplicity. This thesis looks 
unpromising because of the problem of equivocation. It seems to equivocate between God's 
simplicity and human simplicity and it seems to confuse a metaphysical property with a 
moral or a religious experience. It seems to make a sort of analogy between God's 
simplicity and the personality of a Forrest Gump. And that is surely counter-intuitive. 

Now, let's explore this difficulty and see if there is any light that can be shed on it. 
The first question to be asked in any medieval scientific treatise is "an sit?" that is, whether 
the subject of this science exists at all. So Thomas at the outset of his sacra doctrina must 
establish God's existence. Thomas points to motion or change, and he says that the 
phenomenon of change requires us to affirm the existence of an unchanged changer. Now 
what Thomas will say is that an unchanged changer can have no potentiality. An 
unchanged changer is pure act and can only be what it is, it cannot be anything different. 
There is no movement, no change in God. So God for Thomas is unchanged. This is a 
negative term. It does not say anything positive about him, it says what he is not - he is not 
the subject of change. 

In the course of demonstrating this Thomas makes the more general point that our 
knowledge of God begins with the via negativa which is the establishment of our knowledge 
of what God is not and how God is not. In ST. 1a, q.3, Thomas shows that God is not 
composed. He is not made up of parts. You have all heard this before in one form or 
another, so there is no need to labor it but to run through the steps Thomas goes through: 

Thomas begins by showing that God cannot be a body since, having no potentiality, 
He is not divisible into parts. It follows from this that God is not composed of form and 
matter. Furthermore, there is no distinction between God and the divine nature or between 
God and the act by which God is. God's essence is his unlimited act of existence. God is 
the unlimited, unconstrained act of "to be." 

But we have no idea of what that is in itself because all of our ideas start with sense 
knowledge. Since God is not a body our knowing of him does not have a foothold in the 
senses and so we can form no direct idea of him. In addition our judgments about him must 
fail at least in that all our judgments about reality suppose the elementary distinction 


between subject and predicate in the act of judgment. It is important that Thomas 
establishes this at the outset because his later discussions of analogy in which Thomas 
provides an account of our positive and truthful speech about God presuppose the 
impossibility of the unaided knowing of the divine nature in itself. Thomas has described 
what God is not. This is where Thomas begins- in describing what God is not. 

Now, this is key for Thomas because it controls the metaphysical distinction between 
God and his creation. Have you ever thought about that? What makes God to be God? 
One of the things that make God to be God is the fact that God is uncomposed. Everything 
else in creation is a composition. Nothing else is pure simplicity, only God. This, 
metaphysically, is a strong place to begin the discussion of God's uniqueness. This is the 
place in which God is displayed as incomparable to everything else. It is his simplicity. And 
(this is important) it is this simplicity in God, this undividedness, which controls subsequent 
discussion of the Trinity. 

Now you know that in the Eastern and the Western traditions (and this is an 
oversimplified thesis but it has enough truth to still bear repeating without blushing) there is a 
classical difference between the approaches to the Trinity on this question. The East 
typically begins with the three who are God, Father, Son and Spirit, and starts the discussion 
with the monarchy of the Father; and then discusses the Son and the Spirit as variously 
proceeding from the Father. And then when they discuss the Father and the Son and the 
Holy Spirit, they set themselves the problem of figuring out how we don't have three Gods. 
Then their theologians get to work and show how the three are nevertheless one. But they 
start with the three. 

Now the West (and Aquinas is a perfect instance of the Western tradition), takes the 
opposite tack. The Western theologians start with the fact that there is only the one God. 
That conviction controls the subsequent discussion of the three persons. Given that there is 
only one God, how can God nonetheless be three persons? Well, for Thomas, there are 
three in God only by virtue of relative opposition. There are processions in God of 
knowledge and love. It is the relative opposition between the origin and the terminal point of 
these processions in God, that grounds Divine Persons. For Thomas, persons in God are 
relatively real. They are real precisely by virtue of their relation. In fact, a person in God just 
is, for St. Thomas, a subsistent relation. 

This is important because it means the persons in God, the subsistent relationships 
in God, are real precisely in virtue of the unity of God, the undividedness of God, the 
incomparability of God. Do we know what that is? No we don't. We have no language to 
describe that. We have no way of encountering it. Since we are composed we have no way 
of reaching beneath our creaturely composite condition to get an idea of what that undivided 
simplicity is. We have only at best a remote analogical idea of it. And yet the thing that we 
can never know, the thing we can never wrap our minds around, is the very quality in God 
which establishes communio among Divine Persons. He is the unknown God, and it is 
precisely this unknowable unity which is the source of the relationship between Father and 
Son, and Spirit. These relationships in fact proceed from something which is in itself 
unknowable. So the undividedness of God, which we cannot get our minds around, is the 
very source of the communio of the Divine Persons. 

Now, what has this discussion to do with holiness? Well, to use the word the way the 
dictionary uses the word, holiness (at the least) qualifies persons and times and places for 
religious use. Holiness is a reservation. When something is taken away from common 


circulation and reserved for divine use it acquires the appellation "holy." 

This goes to the whole psychology, the whole way we live our life as religious: we 
wear habits partly as a way of saying to ourselves and to another that we are reserved from 
general circulation. We are on the reserved list! We belong to God. Our cloisters are 
reserved in that sense. They are reserved for the community, but that is just another way of 
saying our communities are reserved for God. That space is reserved for God. The vows - 
we don't get married. "I belong only to the Lord," we say. We are sometimes not quite clear 
why the Lord would be interested in making such a reservation or why he would prize us in 
that fashion. That is because we don't see ourselves the way he sees us. He has reserved 
us for himself. Whatever reason he had in mind, that is what he did. And that is our function: 
to symbolize, to make institutionally, corporally, psychologically real, this dimension of God, 
this dimension of his holiness, this dimension of reservation. 

I want to offer another example to make the same point. In the Rite of Ordination at 
the end of the litany of the saints you find this prayer: "Bless these chosen ones, make them 
holy, and set them apart for sacred duties." The dimension that the sacred adds, logically, is 
just this setting apart. It is marking the difference, the difference that is God, the otherness. 

Holiness, though, we have said, belongs to persons, places, clothing, utensils, 
reserved for the divine. But that is only analogical or by way of participation. Holiness in 
itself is proper to God. The Lord goes so far as to say that holiness is, in fact, his name, his 
essence: "The holy one of Israel. " Let's go to Isaiah to give some texts that verify this. 
Isaiah 40:25 goes this way: "To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him, 
says the Holy One?" [RSV]. To whom will you compare me? There is nothing to compare, 
there is no comparison. And how does he name himself there? He names himself as the 
Holy One, the Different One. The Incomparable One. Or look at Isaiah 45:21: "Declare and 
present your case, the Lord says, let them take counsel together. Who told this long ago 
who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And he goes on to say: "And there is no 
other God besides me." He is giving his name, and his name is, "There is no other God 
besides me. A righteous God [which means "holy"] and a savior, there is none besides me." 
So we find that God resists and rejects comparisons with the creation. And he finds this 
rejection of comparisons to be the source or the manifestation of what is meant by his 

Now another way of speaking about this holiness of God, this difference, this 
incomparability of God, is to see the difference the Scripture speaks of. They speak by way 
of opposition here. Holiness in God is described by way of opposition with the rest of 
creation. Look at chapter 11, verses 8-9 in Hosea. The Lord has been lamenting the sins of 
his people, and he is threatening severe chastisement. And then something else happens. 
In verse 8 he says, "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? 
How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within 
me. My compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger. I will not 
again destroy Ephraim." Why? "For I am God, and not man." ["I am God," which means I 
am not man.] "The Holy One in your midst." And He does not come to destroy. 

Sanctity here in Hosea, God's sanctity, God's holiness, is free of all the weaknesses 
that mark humanity. Human beings are known for the execution of their fierce anger. There 
is one commentary on the Our Father which addresses the petition "forgive us our 
trespasses." The word "trespasses" has the sense not of minor offenses or breaches of 
etiquette or anything like that. It has the sense of rape and pillage and ruthless slaughter. 


We think of a trespass as something like getting too close to somebody in choir, or speaking 
sharply, or "being impatient with my sister," or something like that. But really you are going 
to have to raise the bar a little bit on that. You are going to have to get busy if you are really 
going to commit what the Our Father refers to as trespasses. What the Bible has in mind is 
not small. The Bible has Bosnia in mind, Herzegovina in mind, Africa, apartheid, and rape in 
mind. And Hiroshima in mind. See? Ruthless murder. It has abortion in mind. Ruthless 
slaughter. Forgive us our ruthless slaughters. Because what does man do? That is what 
man does. Let us loose with our passions and we destroy the world. We are like that. And 
that quality which Hosea says is characteristic of the human person is precisely what God 
says he is not. I, unlike you, will not execute my anger. Psalm 50 (49):21 says the same 
thing: "Do you think that I am like you?" Now it is talking about lesser things, it is talking 
about cultic sacrifice. But it says "do you think I am like you?" He is talking about insincerity 
in worship. (And I will come back to that later). He says, "Do you think that I am like you?" 
"No, I am not. I am holy. " 

I think it is the prophet Hosea who is inspired to find the linkage between God's 
holiness, his mercy and forbearance with his covenant people, and his determination to 
restore communio with them They do not easily or naturally go together, but Hosea makes 
the link. It is important to understand this. It is important to see that this is not starting from 
the creature, and the experience and compassion of the creature, and then working our way 
up to God. It is not a matter of looking at ourselves and deciding that as we are 
compassionate, God must be even more so. We don't start with our own compassion or 
goodness here, and then build up a picture of how good God must be. It is rather the 
opposite. This holiness is starkly and uniquely from God. The point of the passage is that 
God is holy - completely other than us - not like us, but completely other than us in his 

This "otherness" of God is displayed shockingly, mysteriously, in our midst. Holiness 
is removed from us, and yet holiness has appeared in our midst. This is a compassion 
which of its essence eludes us and which we can never really wrap our minds around. As I 
say we tend to get this wrong because we think that compassion is so obviously a good trait 
of the human being that God naturally would be the exemplar of what we mean by 
goodness. But Hosea's point is rather different. His point is to underscore the strangeness, 
the difference, of the compassion that is revealed. 

I want to go to Isaiah to illustrate the same point in a slightly different way. We go to 
Isaiah chapter 6, the inaugural vision of the prophet, which we have read many times. 

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high 
and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. 
Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he 
covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to the other, "Holy, 
holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory. " And the 
foundations of the threshold shook at the voice of him who called. And the 
house was filled with smoke. And I said, "Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a 
man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For 
my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. " 

This is a theophany in the Temple, and it calls to mind the theophany on Mt. Sinai. 
The seraphim are kind enough to play the role of the thunder and lightening. They become 
the living thunder and lightening. The seraphs are like the flames and thunder on Mt. Sinai; 


they are the living flame, and they are the thunder around Yahweh. Their eyes are averted, 
they cannot look at him. They cover their eyes with their wings. They cannot deal with this 
difference that is God. And the flames themselves sing and speak and burn in his presence. 
But you see, the flames which surround the Lord, which are what these seraphs are, these 
living flames themselves are burned. The fire is burned, the flames are burned by the 
holiness of the Lord. And so they shake and they tremble and they cannot look at him. The 
natural result of this would be annihilation. And so they shout the difference. They shout the 
shocking difference between God and themselves, as spiritual and as exalted as they are, 
by shouting out "Holy, holy, holy [different, different, different], is the Lord God of Hosts." 
Now, this experience reaches the prophet, and in fact it would destroy the prophet. "Woe is 
me, he says, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips ... my eyes have seen the King, the 
Lord of Hosts." This fire should consume the prophet, but notice what happens. "Then flew 
one of the flames to me, the burning ones, having in his hand the burning coal which he had 
taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, "Behold, this has 
touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven." And I heard the voice of 
the Lord say, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here I am, send me. " 

The fire which burned the living flames of the seraphim, and which should have 
burned the prophet and destroyed him, actually purified his sin and took it away. What 
Isaiah is teaching is that the power which sustains the world destroys all impurity. Flame is 
a purifying force of nature. The fire destroys all impurity and would with it destroy the 
prophet, but the holiness of God actually purifies the lips of the prophet. It destroys but it 
does not destroy the prophet; it destroys the prophet's sin. Sin cannot live in the presence 
of God, but apparently people who are sinful can. Our sin cannot survive contact with God 
but we, on the other hand, do. The otherness of God doesn't destroy us, it makes us live. 

One more illustration and then I will drop this theme. It is Ezechiel 36:22-27, again a 
passage we all know practically by heart. 

Therefore say to the House of Israel, thus says the Lord God: "It is not for 
your sake, O House of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my 
holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 
And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name which has been profaned 
among the nations, and which you have profaned among them, and the 
nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I 
vindicate my holiness before their eyes. For I will take you from the nations 
and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will 
sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, 
and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you and a 
new spirit I will put within you and I will take out of your flesh the heart of 
stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and 
cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my decrees. " 

And then he goes on, "It is not for your sake that I act, says the Lord God. Let that 
be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways" (Ez. 36:32). He will act, and 
does act, for the sake of vindicating the holiness of his name, and he does that precisely by 
the forgiveness of sins. Ezechiel has God manifesting the holiness of his name, not by the 
destruction of his people, but more astonishingly, by the forgiveness of sins. It is this 
holiness which manifests itself as forgiveness which restores communio between God and 
his people. 


I have suggested that God's utter simplicity and undividedness is the root of the 
divine difference from creation. This undividedness is at the root of the procession of divine 
persons and their mutual indwelling in divine communio. This same undividedness in God is 
the pattern or ratio or exemplar according to which God, in his holiness, destroys sin and 
restores communion with his sinful creatures. 

The effect is like the cause. Holiness in God will find its created analogue. The 
difference that God is and makes is effected in our lives by what is known as purity of heart. 
That is the human translation of the holiness of God. Jesus discusses purity of heart in the 
Beatitudes. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." This beatitude, like the 
beatitudes of the merciful and the peacemaker, is special to St. Matthew (5:3-10). It takes 
its inspiration from the twenty-fourth Psalm which accompanies the liturgical entrance into 
the sanctuary of Jerusalem. It asks, "Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who shall 
stand in his holy place?" The answer is given: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart." 
One who, in other words, is ritually pure and also personally and morally pure shall stand in 
his holy place. He "who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear 
deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from the God of his 
salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of 
Jacob." Purity here seems to be a condition for approaching God, for taking part in worship 
and for beholding his face. 

That is the blessing to be given: to see the face of God. Those who seek to find the 
face of the God of Jacob, then, are meant to be pure. This line, "beholding his face," is a 
way of describing intimacy in the Scriptures. The phrase "to see the face of the king" bears a 
particular and positive meaning. If you see the face of the king, it doesn't mean that you 
have been called in to hear the summons of your execution or to be banished or something 
like that. If you have been called to "see the face of the king" you have been invited to be 
his confidant. Someone who sees the face of the king has access. Someone who sees the 
face of the king is the king's friend. Do you hear the echoes of this in the last discourse of 
Jesus in the Gospel of John when Jesus said, "I have called you friends"? "Philip," he says, 
"he who has seen me, "in other words, he who has seen my face, "has seen the Father." 

In Exodus 23:14-17 there is listed an obligation of the Israelite to appear before God 
three times a year: at the feast of unleavened bread which is Passover, at the feast of the 
grain harvest which is Pentecost, and at the fruit harvest which is the Feast of Booths. Now 
this phrase, "to appear before God - to see God," was modified by later tradition precisely 
because the phrase "coming to see God" seemed too intimate - too presumptuous. And yet 
the earliest text said just that. And just this intimacy of seeing God is joined to the 
possessing and the offering of a pure heart in worship. "Blessed are the pure in heart, they 
shall see God." Blessed are those who offer a pure heart in worship for they are intimate 
with God and the chosen friends of the Great King. 

Now, notice the link here in this Psalm and this Beatitude with cultic purity. And 
remember again that cultic purity is linked to the sense of God's holiness or otherness. 
Hence as we have seen before, things and bodies are to be made holy by being made 
exclusively for his use. Now we need this kind of demarcation because we are in fact body- 
soul components. And these regulations of holiness have also contributed to the survival of 
the Jewish people by making it incumbent upon them to be holy, that is to say, separate 
from the world. 


But this cultic purity which is talked about in Psalm 24 is no substitute for moral 
purity. What the psalm says is that a pure heart is an undivided heart. If you look at Genesis 
20:2-6 there is a story about Pharaoh and Sarah and Abraham. Abraham told Pharaoh that 
Sarah was his sister. This dissembling led Pharaoh to take Sarah for his own. That night the 
Lord threatened to take Pharaoh's life but Pharaoh successfully appealed to the Lord for his 
life by saying, "I did this with a clean conscience and clean hands." 

This is what it means to have a clean heart. It means to have a single intention. And 
it is the opposite of hypocrisy, or double-mindedness. In Psalm 12 we find the perfect 
description of double-mindedness and prayer against it. "Help, O Lord! For there is no 
longer any that is godly; for the faithful have vanished from among the sons of men. 
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor. With flattering lips and a double heart they speak. " Not 
a single heart, a double heart. The opposite of hypocrisy or double-heartedness in Psalm 12 
is having a pure heart, or a clean heart. Drawing near in worship is allowed only to the 
single-hearted. And cultic worship which conceals fraud or a hidden agenda is anathema to 
the Lord. Why? Precisely because cultic worship signifies the single intention. It is precisely 
because you have a single intent that you are allowed to worship. So to come to worship 
with a double heart, doubly undermines the meaning of worship and turns it into a lie and a 
sacrilege. This is why cultic worship which conceals fraud is anathema to the Lord. Cultic 
worship signifies the single intention. "Now the human heart is treacherous," says Jeremiah, 
"and who can understand it?" (17:9). That is another way of saying the human heart is 
irreparably double-minded and can only be rendered single again, or made one again, as an 
act of creation. Psalm 51 says "Create in me a clean heart." And Ezechiel and Jeremiah 
alike testify to God's creation of a new and therefore single undivided heart. 

Jesus shows how it is from the heart that all evil flows. Matthew 15:10-20 discusses 
how evil flows from the heart and not from external observances. He doesn't offer here a 
solution to the problem of the evil heart, but each of the written Gospels presupposes that 
the kingdom is available through him. More specifically, it is his crucifixion, death and 
resurrection that make purity of heart, singleness of heart, singleness of vision, available. 
Later apostolic preaching would link purity of heart to the purification brought by baptism and 
by faith. Baptism and faith are efficacious in his regard because they are instruments of the 
Holy Spirit who applies to the baptized the effects of the passion and resurrection of Christ. 
And so "God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them (that is, the pagans) giving them 
the Holy Spirit just as he did to us. And he made no distinction between us and them but 
cleansed their hearts [made their hearts pure] by faith" (Acts 15:8-9). And Peter says, 
"Baptism which corresponds to this now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, 
but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience (for a pure heart) through the resurrection of 
Jesus Christ." (1 Pt 3:21) So baptism saves you by its appeal to God for him to create in 
you a clear conscience, a single heart. How? Through the resurrection of Jesus. 

We started out by thinking about this with reference to the Last Supper in the Gospel 
of John - the Lord's Discourse. It is the Feast of Passover. And we think again of the 
obligation of the Israelite to appear before God three times a year. Those who appear 
before the Lord, who see the face of God, are his associates. The disciples see Jesus, they 
are joined to him, and notice that they are purified by him in the foot-washing. They have 
come to see him, and they have been made pure, they have been given a single heart, in 
the action of the washing of the feet. And so Jesus says that "you are all pure, all clean, 
though not all of you" - referring to Judas. This is important because Judas is the double- 
minded one. Judas is precisely the divided self. He loves Jesus and loved him enough to 
follow him, and yet he betrays him. He betrays him and yet he says "I have sinned in 


betraying innocent blood." Judas is not of-a-piece, he is fragmented. Now this shows us 
that sin is double-mindedness, division within the self. 

It has always been extremely interesting to me that Jesus, when faced with the 
possessed man, asked the demon, "What is your name?" And the answer that is offered is, 
"We are Legion," we are many. That has always struck me as a profound description of the 
nature of evil. It is division within the self. Jesus referred to Satan's kingdom as collapsing 
precisely as "if Satan is divided against Satan..." Well, Satan is in fact of his nature divided 
against Satan. Satan has no center. Thomas makes the same point in a less apocalyptic 
manner when he says that the vices war against one another. If you are lazy you can't be 
effective as a thief. Many people in Italy during the Second World War were saved from 
being rounded up by the Nazis and Fascists because these particular Nazis and Fascists 
had a different work-ethic than one typically found in Berlin. It is a fact of human nature that 
one sort of imperfection can be providentially used to keep us from something even more 
awful. The vices go against each other. That's what happens. 

There is an evil of psychological splitting of the personality. Robert Lifton has 
described this phenomenon in his book The Nazi Doctors. 1 He is a Jewish psychiatrist and 
he wanted to know how it was psychologically possible for these doctors to live with 
themselves. They worked in the death camps and performed experiments on people. They 
put people in ice just to see how long it would take before they died. They wanted to know 
how much freezing the human skin can endure. They injected them with diseases to see 
how the body would react. How do you do that? How do you take the Hippocratic Oath and 
then do those sorts of things? 

Lifton's book examines these questions. In the course of his investigation he 
uncovered a phenomenon called "doubling." The experience of guilt is an experience of 
tension between what you have done and what you know you should have done, between 
what you are and what you know you should be. The essence of guilt is conflict. There is 
nobody who has guilt who is not at war with himself. This is tension and pain. How do we 
deal with the tension and pain of guilt? Mild forms inspire mild forms of disassociation and 
extreme forms provoke extreme disassociation. So when you are a doctor and you have 
spent the day experimenting on people and freezing them to death, what do you do? Well, 
you create another self, who likes to listen to Mozart, and likes to enjoy the sunset and the 
pleasures of civilization. The interesting thing is that these people are able do this and not 
experience suffering or guilt precisely because it is the doubling phenomenon that takes 
away the conflict. If you've got one person who says one thing and does another then the 
self is at war and the war is unpleasant and causes suffering. What do you do? You create 
not one person but two people, one of them wholly devoted to the evil pursuit, the other one 
wholly devoted to an opposite pursuit. And they don't conflict with each other, and therefore 
there is no suffering, because they are entirely different. 

This phenomenon, seen in extreme form in The Nazi Doctors, goes on in less 
dramatic form everyday. There was a priest who was involved with pedophilia and with 
abusing young girls and they sent him off for an evaluation. They asked him, "Do you find 
pleasure in having multiple sex-partners?" And he said "How can I do that, I am a celibate 
priest?" "Yeah, but you have abused fifty children!" And he said, "Well, I'm only human." The 
interesting phenomenon here is that there are two people in him somehow. There is the 
celibate priest who is able to keep his identity intact by denying the existence of the other 
one. "Of course I am a celibate priest" - that is one part of his psyche. The other part of his 
psyche is the part that says, "Well, after all, I am only human." And this guy didn't have any 


guilt. He slept well, smoked cigars, and wondered why they had gone to the trouble of 
sending him to this place. "What's the matter, I've got no problem." And he didn't have a 
problem, because he had split himself in two. That's an extreme form. I suppose the most 
extreme form of this shows up in possession, or maybe pseudo-possession, where there is 
another self in the self. But anyway, evil is shown by division. 

Now this splitting of the self is a most spectacular and really egregious evil, but it 
accompanies us all our days. Who of us really is of a piece? I say lots of things, and then 
do other things; I am loud in my affirmation of the need for ascetical practices as I reach for 
another bag of Doritos. I sanely insist on the most rigorous academic standards for our 
students as I read them summaries of classic texts rather than work through the difficult 
texts with them. I am like that. I don't meet my own standards, and maybe you are like that. 
The point is I am not torn in two about it because I am, at least in a small form, able to 
compartmentalize. And holiness is really about the breaking down of that 
compartmentalization. Holiness is about becoming one thing, not many things. 

This happens in community. Community life as it becomes purified also tends 
towards unity. We live and work with one another, we sacrifice for one another, we yield to 
one another in the process of becoming one. This work of becoming one with one another is 
always a work of reconciliation. We start fragmented. We start out thinking we are in a form 
of unity, we are already in heaven. And then as life goes on we discover that there are more 
and more forms of division in us. And then we overcome them. And so the work of becoming 
one within ourselves and one with one another - the work of establishing communio - is 
always a work of reconciliation. There is always a lot of forgiving involved in it. There is 
always a lot of overcoming of division. The goal of that is union, and the nature of union 
manifests the holiness of God, the otherness of God, the difference of God. 

So to go back to beholding his face in purity of heart: beholding his face is a way of 
describing intimacy, to see the face of the king is to be admitted into his confidence, to have 
access, to be his friends. "/ have called you friends, " says Jesus. "Philip, he who has seen 
my face, he who has seen me has seen the Father." He says, "The Father and I are one." 
We are at-one. And then Jesus prays his high-priestly prayer in which he addresses his 
Father precisely as holy. "Holy Father," he says. And it is the only time he uses the word in 
the Gospel. At that supreme moment he addresses his Father as holy. And then in the midst 
of that naming of God as holy, as one, as incomparable, as other, he says, "May they be one 
as you and I, Father, are one." He is praying for the overcoming of divisions, for the 
overcoming of double-mindedness. He is praying for his disciples to be one thing with him 
as he is one with the Father. This happens at Eucharist, which effects and requires purity of 
heart. And so the communio effected in the Eucharist is perhaps one of the reasons why the 
Church insists that the Eucharist is the sovereign summit of the Christian, and hence 
monastic, and hence Dominican monastic life. 

1 Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: 
Basic Books, 1986). 



Study in the Lives of Dominican Preachers and Contemplatives 

Paul Murray, O.P. 
Province of Ireland 


I want to begin this talk on study this morning by considering for a moment the 
overall theme of our conference: "A Life Harmoniously Ordered to the Continual 
Remembrance of God." The first question to ask in this context is, of course, what place 
does study occupy in such a life? "Study" we read, in paragraph 103 of the Constitutions, 
"nourishes contemplation," and what is contemplation if not the continual remembrance of 
God? Every day in our lives as Dominicans, there is an event, a moment of grace, when we 
find ourselves being asked directly by God to remember Him: "Do this in memory of me." So 
it should be obvious that the Eucharist - the rite of the Eucharist - is the way par excellence 
for remembering God. But all prayer, by its very nature, is a way of remembering God. And 
there are other ways, many other ways. But there is one way - a method if you like - of 
remembering God so fundamental, it is in itself (at least in the opinion of Dominicans) also a 
way of prayer. I have in mind here, of course, the discipline of study. For study of what is 
true and of what is good and of what is beautiful - and also of what is broken, or of what is 
sad, or of what is unhealed, or of what is in need of mercy - study of these things can itself 
become a form of contemplation, a continual remembrance of God. 

To prepare a talk of this kind for such an audience is not an easy task. But what 
relaxes me, as I begin, is the knowledge that you yourselves will be able to bring to my 
words - that is to my few loaves and fishes of insight - your own depth of experience as 
Dominican contemplatives, your own living knowledge of what it means in practice to seek 
God as enclosed religious. You will be able to add, therefore, what I've left out, and indeed 
subtract, where necessary, and even multiply my few loaves and fishes of insight! 

One of the great difficulties with regard to this subject is the lack of any compre- 
hensive historical analysis of the place of study in the lives of enclosed Dominican nuns 
across the centuries. But, whether or not we agree with the suggestion in LCM 103 that 
Saint Dominic himself encouraged study for the nuns from the beginning, dedicated study 
certainly had its place within the Dominican monastic life. Worth noting, in this context, is 
the unique story of one convent, that of the medieval community of enclosed Dominican 
nuns at Dartford in England. This monastery survived for two centuries, from approximately 
1349 to 1559. All through the Middle Ages, it was the only women's community of the Order 
of Preachers in England. The history of Dartford is described in a recent book by Paul Lee 
entitled Nunneries, Learning and Spirituality in Late Medieval Society: The Dominican Priory 
of Dartford.^ Eighty pages of Lee's book are devoted to the evidence of the nuns' intellectual 
life. It is noted, for example, that one sister in the community, called Jane Fisher, received 
instruction in both Latin and grammar in the late fifteenth century. And it would appear that, 
in general, the nuns read books of spirituality in both English and Latin. 

It was in Germany, however, that we see more evidence of the way study nourished 
the contemplative lives of Dominican women. And in their devotion to study they were, I 
have no doubt, encouraged by the brethren. But the encouragement was not all one way. In 
fact, it is worth asking ourselves the question: Would the great mystics and teachers and 


preachers, such as Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Suso, ever have attained to such an 
extraordinary height of wisdom and insight without the wisdom and witness of the nuns? In 
this matter the case of Margaret Ebner (1291-1351) a nun of the diocese of Augsbourg, is 
instructive. Her spiritual friend and director was a Dominican friar called Henry of 
Nordlingen. But so remarkable was the holiness and learning of Margaret she became for 
Henry, in the end, the guide, the teacher, and the director. In Henry's words Margaret Ebner 
was not only "a holy model and a clear mirror" but also "a well-graced way to all divine 
truth." 2 As a preacher, Henry describes himself as a piper who, with his music, seeks to lead 
others into the dance of truth and life. But he makes a confession, and it is one with which I 
myself can completely identify. Henry says that, although he is indeed a piper who leads 
from the front, the melody which he is playing is one that is understood, and lived out, and 
danced to, far better by others than by himself. Nevertheless, he is encouraged to believe 
that, with Margaret Ebner's help, he will, in time, be able "to master the steps of the dance 
of a true life to the sweet piping [of Christ]." 3 

In the pages which follow, my primary focus will be on the place of study in the lives 
of the Dominican Friars Preachers. But much of what the brothers discovered over the 
centuries about the importance of study in their lives as preachers is relevant also, I believe, 
for the sisters, those Dominican women such as yourselves, who have been called from the 
time of Dominic to serve the "holy preaching" in a life devoted to prayer and contemplation. 

The place of study in the Dominican tradition is clearly indicated in the following short 
passage from Blessed Humbert of Romans. In his "Treatise on the Formation of Preachers" 
he writes: 

Though a grace of preaching is strictly had by God's gift, a sensible preacher 
still ought to do what he can to ensure that his preaching is commendable, by 
carefully studying what he has to preach... So Jerome says, in his comment 
on Ezekiel 3:1, "Eat the book": "The words of God should be stored up in our 
hearts and carefully examined, and only then proffered to the people." 4 

Two things are immediately clear from this passage. First, in the context of Domini- 
can life and vocation, study is not undertaken for its own sake but for the purpose of 
preaching the Word of God. And second, the study envisaged, although it clearly 
presupposes some form of academic commitment, indicates something else as well. There 
is a quality of attention demanded that engages the whole person. Thus Humbert notes that 
the words of God are not only to be examined, they are to be devoured, and so not merely 
appropriated by our minds but somehow interiorized and absorbed or, as he puts it himself, 
"stored up in our hearts." 

Humbert makes no mention of prayer in this passage, but there is, of course, an 
obvious link between the preacher's life of prayer and contemplation and what Humbert is 
insisting on here. But what is this link exactly? How did the Dominicans of the first few 
generations, for example, understand the relationship between dedicated commitment to 
study and the life of prayer? And why did they insist on making so unbreakable the link 
between such study and the call to be preachers of the Word? 


Study as a Spiritual Work 

In modern times holiness has come to be associated with the heart rather than with 
the head. A dedication to study is sometimes perceived, in fact, as being a positive 
hindrance to the pursuit of holiness. And we are constantly being encouraged by contem- 
porary authors to make a journey, an exodus, out from the captivity of the so-called dry and 
grey intellect, to the fresh and living springs of the heart. This dualism, however, between 
head and heart is something quite foreign to the Dominican spirit and understanding. Actual 
goodness, it is true, can certainly be considered as the holiness of the heart, since from 
there charity springs. But thinking, serious thinking about the Gospel, and about the world 
we are living in, can itself be a form of holiness, and a necessary form. Accordingly, 
Dominicans in every age tend to insist that there can be no serious awakening to God 
without an awakening in the mind. For, as disciples of the Word, we discover at the end if 
not at the beginning of our studies that, whereas goodness may indeed be the holiness of 
the heart, truth is the holiness of the mind. 

When the holiness of Thomas Aquinas is referred to in The Dialogue of St. 
Catherine of Siena, it is characterised by one striking phrase: Thomas saw God in his 
"mind's eye" (ne I'occhio de I'intelletto). 6 Now St. Thomas, we know from early sources, was 
a man capable, on occasion, of profound spiritual emotion. He had, for example, the gift of 
tears. But, for Thomas, as for many of the early Dominicans, thinking itself was a sacred 
activity. His mind was a mind in love with God. Owing to the great intellectual genius of St. 
Thomas and that of others in the Order before and after him, a devotion to learning came to 
be regarded as a distinctive characteristic of Dominicans. But how fundamental, in the very 
early years of the Order's development, was this concern for study? Can we say that such a 
passionate devotion to learning had been, from the beginning, a vital aspect of the 
Dominican spirit? 

The Example of Dominic 

The dedication of Dominic himself to a life of study is underlined in one of the first 
pages of Jordan of Saxony's Libellus: On the Beginnings of the Order of Preachers. Jordan 
writes: "[Dominic's] eagerness to imbibe the streams of holy scripture was so intense and so 
unremitting that he spent whole nights almost without sleep, so untiring was his desire to 
study." 6 Moreover, since "he accepted the Lord's commandments so warmly," and since "his 
love and piety fertilized whatever he learned," Dominic, we are told, "was able to penetrate 
the mysteries of difficult theological questions with the humble understanding of his heart." 7 
With Dominic, it would seem, the commitment to theological study was almost instinctive. As 
early as 1215 or 1216, he was seen attending, with a small number of his brothers, the 
theology lectures being given at Toulouse by the English theologian, Alexander Stavensby. 
And within a few years he had sent a number of his fledgling Dominicans to both Paris and 
Bologna, the centres of theological learning at that time. One of the witnesses at Dominic's 
canonization process, Brother John of Spain, remarked that he "always carried around with 
him the Gospel of Matthew and the letters of Paul," and "studied them so much that he 
knew them by heart." 8 That word "always," with regard to study, is surely significant. John of 
Spain tells us further that he "always advised and exhorted his brothers to study both the 
Old and New Testaments." 9 

In the early iconography of the saint, Dominic is shown most often holding a book in 
his hands. And this detail is by no means accidental. For the book, especially the book of 


the Gospels, was central to Dominic, both in his life of study and in his life of prayer. In the 
thirteenth century text, The Nine Ways of Prayer [of St. Dominic], we are informed that the 
preacher, "sober and alert and anointed with a spirit of devotion... would sit down to read or 
pray, recollecting himself in himself and fixing himself in the presence of God." 10 Further, 
with a book open before him, "[W]hen he was reading like this on his own, he used to 
venerate the book and bow to it and sometimes kiss it, particularly if it was a book of the 
Gospels or if he was reading the words which Christ had spoken with his own lips." 11 

These statements about Dominic with regard to prayer and study recall that short, 
vivid imperative, "Eat the book," which Humbert of Romans quoted from chapter three of 
Ezekiel. In the Ezekiel passage, after the words "eat the book" or "eat the scroll," the text 
continues: "I opened my mouth; he gave me the scroll to eat and said, 'Son of man, feed 
and be satisfied by the scroll I am giving you.' I ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey" (Ezk 3: 
2-3). Like the prophet Ezekiel, St. Dominic, it can be said, devoured with enthusiasm the 
scroll or book of God's word. First he read it and then he tasted it. It should come as no 
surprise, therefore, to find Jordan of Saxony alluding to a similar text from the Old 
Testament when, in the Libellus, he speaks of Dominic's hunger and thirst for truth. Jordan 
writes: "He began to develop a passionate appetite for God's words, finding them 'sweeter 
than honey to his mouth'." 12 But, for Dominic, it was not so much the experience of the Word 
or the taste of the Word that mattered most, but rather the Word itself, and the mission he 
received to speak the Word. Of supreme importance, therefore, is the following brief 
sentence in the Ezekiel text: "Son of man, eat what is given to you; eat this scroll, then go 
and speak to the house of Israef (Ezk 3:1 ). 13 Dominic, we can be sure, would not have 
overlooked that final injunction. He was to be a preacher, first and last. 

Study into Preaching 

In the Prologue to the early Dominican Constitutions, a text which of course St. 
Dominic himself would have overseen, study is not only mentioned but given an unusual 
weight and importance. Clearly, for the early friars, a man who is a Dominican is a man 
committed to study. But the fact that, in these early Constitutions, study commands such 
unusual attention, is due to one overriding factor, and that is, of course, the service which 
study can give to the task of "preaching and the salvation of souls." "[A]ll our concern 
{stadium nostrum)" we read in the Prologue, "should be primarily and passionately directed 
to this all-important goal." 14 That statement is fundamental. So absorbing in itself can study 
become at times that, far from serving the work of the apostolate, it can begin actually to 
undermine the focus on preaching. However, in spite of this risk, Dominicans over the 
centuries have followed Dominic's lead in emphasizing the importance of study in the 
preacher's life. Thus, for example, in a long commentary on the Constitutions by Blessed 
Humbert of Romans, Expositio super Constitutiones, we read: "Study is not the end of the 
Order, but it is an utmost necessity to that end, which is preaching and labouring for the 
salvation of souls, for without study we can do neither." 15 

Dominic, in his attempts to refute the errors of the Cathar heretics in Provence, had 
made this discovery for himself. He came to realize that, in terms of apostolic strategy, it 
would not be wise simply to deliver moral exhortations to the people, and ignore the 
challenge to orthodoxy. What was needed, if the truth of God's Word was to be defended, 
and the Christian vision upheld, was an accurate and profound knowledge of scripture and 
of church teaching. And the only way to acquire such knowledge was through rigorous 
study. This realization on the part of Dominic was to have enormous consequences for the 


formation of his new Order. According to The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, in marked 
contrast to Francis of Assisi whose hallmark was poverty, the hallmark of Dominic (though 
himself a poor mendicant) was "learning" (la scientia)™ In The Dialogue, the Father explains 
to Catherine that it was precisely "in order to stamp out the errors that were rising up at that 
time" that Dominic built the foundation of his Order on "the light of learning 


But what about the enclosed Dominicans, yourselves, who are not engaged in the 
active, public, apostolate of preaching? Study is obviously a necessity for the Friars 
Preachers - but should study have such a place of importance in the contemplative life? A 
first answer to this question is given in LCM 103 which states that "study nourishes 
contemplation." Study, in other words, helps us to attain to union with God. It helps keep 
alive the continual remembrance of God. But there is another reason why study is vital for 
Dominican contemplatives. St. Dominic established the contemplative nuns from the begin- 
ning with a direct orientation to the apostolate. This particular focus sets the nuns apart, in a 
sense, from other enclosed religious sisters. On this subject I find illuminating what our 
brother, Liam Walsh, said on the subject exactly twenty years ago. In a paper entitled 
"Dominican Study and the Experience of God" he wrote: 

Obviously in the life of the nuns study is not directed towards actual minis- 
terial preaching, but is rather related to the preachers. Your life is defined, in 
one of its features, as a relationship to your brothers, as our life is similarly 
defined as a relationship to you; and it would be incomplete without that. The 
working out of that relationship involves a sharing in each others' concerns 
and an ability to hold conversation with each other. I believe that if the nuns 
are to relate to their brothers who are actively engaged in the ministry of 
preaching, in a way that Dominic wanted that to happen, they need to 
understand what is going on in the minds of their brothers, what their 
concerns are when they preach. They need to know the kind of questions 
with which they have to deal and the kind of answers which they have to offer 
in their preaching. I believe that before the nuns can carry their preaching 
brethren in their hearts they have to carry them also in their minds. There is 
an exchange in that kind of conversation which is part of the richness of the 
Dominican charism: an exchange of learning, of teaching, of mutual criticism 
which is part of the richness of the mission of preaching which Dominic 
wanted to bring to the Church. Therefore, I would see the relationship of 
study to preaching among the nuns in those terms of relationship, and I 
would see in this the most fundamental reason for having study within the life 
of the nuns. 18 

Study and Formation 

Study was considered so important in Dominican formation that, in the earliest 
legislation of the Order, local superiors were given authority to dispense the brethren from 
anything that might interrupt their studies. 19 Even the novices, though naturally encouraged 
to give time to prayer, were also expected to be "earnest... in their study, always reading or 
thinking about something by day or by night... striving to retain as much as they can in their 
minds." 20 That distinctly Dominican suggestion - to be always "thinking about something" - 
finds an echo, centuries later, in the advice the famous preacher, Fr. Vincent McNabb, gave 
to the young Dominicans of the English Province. "Think of anything," he would say to them, 
"but for God's sake think!" 21 


The kind of commitment to study which St. Dominic demanded of his young friars 
preachers may not, perhaps, strike us today as being all that surprising. But, again and 
again in the history of religion, there has been an unfortunate tendency on the part of 
committed religious people to suspect intellectual endeavour, as if the awakening of the 
mind in itself were somehow subversive of the life of piety. Thus, even the great St. Teresa 
of Avila, a woman normally respectful of the need, in her own spiritual life, for learned advice 
and informed knowledge of the faith, could declare: "the less I understand the more I 
believe; and this brings me greater devotion." 22 

Such a sharp dialectic between learning and devotion has found expression over the 
centuries in innumerable pious texts concerning the spiritual life. In one such text, for 
example, The Imitation of Christ, the pride and power of the intellect comes under relentless 
attack and, in one short vivid aphorism, the scientific impulse is, for a moment, peremptorily 
dismissed: "I would rather feel compunction than know its definition." 23 Centuries earlier, a 
statement concerning devotion and study was made, in an encyclical letter to the Dominican 
Order, by Blessed Jordan of Saxony. For Jordan, a considerable problem in the formation of 
the younger brethren was not that they gave too much attention to study but too little. They 
simply did not commit themselves enough, he felt, to their academic tasks. "In some cases," 
Jordan says, "this is because they do not want to be distracted from their unintelligent 
devotions." 24 

Now Jordan does not intend here, for an instant, to undermine the spirit of devotion 
in the younger friars. But, being himself a servant of the Word and an active preacher of the 
Gospel, he is worried, it would seem, that these young Dominicans might fail to grasp the 
Gospel vision, and focus exclusively on their own private pieties and devotions. If they do 
that, Jordan warns, the results will be grave. Apart from "neglecting their own benefit," they 
will, he says, "deprive many people of a chance of salvation, when they could have helped 
them on their way to eternal life if only they had studied properly." 25 

Preachers of Learning and Zeal 

In the twelfth canto of the Paradiso, when Dante begins to speak of St. Dominic and 
of his passion to proclaim the word of truth, he speaks of him not only as an educated man 
and preacher of the gospel but almost as a force of nature. "Then with both learning and 
zeal (con dottrina e con volere) and with the apostolic office, he went forth like a torrent 
driven from a high spring." 26 Dominic's own contemporaries were themselves well aware of 
the preacher's utter dedication to his task. One witness at the Canonization Process 
remarked that Dominic was "so enthusiastic as a preacher that by day and by night, in 
churches, houses, fields, on the road, everywhere, he wanted to preach the word of the 
Lord and he encouraged the brethren to do the same and not to talk about anything except 
God." 27 His compassion extended, we are told, "not only to the faithful, but also to pagans 
and unbelievers and even the damned in hell, and he wept a great deal for them." 28 

Dominic, it is clear, possessed a strong instinct for adventure. He was daring both by 
nature and by grace. Dante calls him "/'/ santo atleta," the holy athlete. 29 No matter how 
difficult or unforeseen the challenge of the hour, he was not afraid to take enormous risks 
for the sake of the Gospel. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that within a few years it could 
be said of the young friars who followed in his wake, and whom he himself had dispersed far 
and wide to preach the gospel, that they had made the ocean their cloister. 30 But was this 
spirit of risk and adventure reflected in the intellectual life of the first Dominicans? Study, we 


know, was given a place that was unheard of before in the history of religious life. It was no 
longer simply one exercise among others. It was now a central and sacred task. But, in 
terms of actual content and imaginative range, how striking and original were the studies of 
these first friars? The principal point to be made, in answer to this question, is that the early 
Dominicans were not attempting to be "striking and original." Their studies were shaped by 
the needs of others, and given the nature of the crisis at that time, what was most urgently 
required for the task of preaching and the cura animarum was straightforward moral and 
doctrinal catecheses. Dominicans were, of course, subsequently to be at the forefront of 
"the new learning" in most of the great universities of Europe. But that was a development 
which came slowly, and far more slowly, perhaps, than most scholars realized until recently. 

In a comprehensive and helpful study on the shape of Dominican studies before 
1350, M. Michele Mulchahey has drawn our attention to what she calls "the essential 
conservatism of early Dominican education." 31 Since the Order was founded to combat 
heresy, its first educational goal, Mulchahey notes, was to ensure the orthodoxy of its own 
members. Accordingly, the range of educational focus did not stretch very wide for quite a 
number of years. The immediate task, and the most important, was to gain knowledge of 
scripture and right doctrine. There was no encouragement, therefore, to read widely in "the 
books of the pagans and philosophers." In fact, by a special clause inserted in the 
Constitutions of 1220, the preachers were instructed to read "only theological books." 32 
Gradually, of course, the shape of Dominican education began to change. In a sense, 
parallel to Dominic's own original desire to go to the furthest frontiers of human need, and 
his manifest willingness to hold dialogue with all kinds of people, the friars preachers found 
themselves able, in time, to devote sustained and serious attention both to the secular 
sciences and to the writings of "the pagans and philosophers." One of the great pioneers in 
this regard, if not the greatest, was Albertus Magnus. 

A Revolutionary Intellectualism 

In the second half of the thirteenth century, a small number of Dominicans, directly 
inspired by the example of Albert as a thinker, and by his dogged insistence on the 
importance of philosophy and the sciences, began to move to the frontiers of human 
thought and scholarship. M.-D. Chenu, in a paper entitled "The Revolutionary Intellectualism 
of St. Albert," writes: 

At a certain point medieval Christianity found itself at the cross-roads, it 
encountered science. That was a grave moment; should the Christian, in 
order to assure himself of heaveniy things, keep himself apart from earthly 
ones? Many did not know what to make of that "science" which presented 
itself already fully equipped, rich with the treasures of antiquity, handed on 
and enlarged by Arab civilization. ..To the question whether science should be 
received many replied: No. Albert answered: Yes. 33 

But was Albert's response to the challenge of science in his time all that remarkable? 
Pere Chenu argues that it marked nothing less than a revolution in human and philosophical 
thought. He contrasts Albert's "daring prevision" and wholly positive response to the science 
of his time with the "misguided refusal" on the part of later thinkers and theologians when 
faced with the challenge of science in their own day. 34 What is more, Chenu refuses to 
make the scientific renaissance of the thirteenth century a kind of poor cousin to that of the 
fifteenth. Both periods, in his opinion, are distinguished by a kind of "intellectual inebriation." 


In fifteenth century Florence, for example, "the literary and artistic intoxication" took the form 
of "a very epidemic of learning, a delight of the mind in the joy of thinking, the supreme 
gladness of an intellectual feast." 35 But the ferment of ideas in the Paris of St. Albert was no 
less remarkable. Reflecting on that period, Chenu does not hesitate to declare: "the 
intellectual inebriation of the Paris of 1250 was deeper, let us even say more revolutionary. 
It was not a revelation of plastic beauty in the realm of imagination and sensibility; it was a 
revelation of nature, of its truth, its being, in the realm of intelligence." 36 

Almost, we can say, like a first Adam on the earth, in the middle of the thirteenth 
century, Albert of Cologne began to look at the world around him with a completely fresh 
gaze. In his commentary on Matthew's Gospel he wrote: "The whole world is theology for 
us, because the heavens proclaim the glory of God." 37 

The Example of Albert the Great 

Albert was a man, a scholar, possessed like no other in his generation by a curiosity 
- almost a compulsion - to understand and annotate the multiple wonders of creation. 
Nothing, it seemed, in the living world, nothing in the air above his head, nothing that moved 
on the earth itself, or in the rivers, or in the vast oceans, escaped his notice. He wrote 
treatises on astronomy, chemistry, grammar, botany, zoology, biology, logic and 
mathematics. In his treatise, De caelo et mundo, when considering the size and shape of 
the earth, he employed not only basic visual observation but also "mathematical methods" 
{signa sumpta ex mathematicis) in order to confirm that the world is round. 38 

At all times the sharpness of his perception is manifest, whether his attention is 
turned to the greatest or to the smallest things in creation. Thus, for example, in De 
animalibus, when discussing the eating habits of the eel, he dismisses outright Aristotle's 
idea that the creature feeds exclusively on slime. Albert writes: "I have seen how it eats 
frogs, worms, and bits of fish, and how, with bait such as these, it is caught with a rod." 39 
Albert was fascinated by the tackle and trade of every profession. He tells us, for example, 
that he studied closely "how they worked in copper in Paris and Cologne and other places 
where I have lived." 40 Given such an extraordinary passion to seek out the truth of things, it 
is no surprise to learn that Albert was as great a teacher as he was a scholar, and a notable 
preacher as well. For, far from being a taciturn, solitary ascetic climbing up the mountain of 
truth "alone to the Alone," his constant joy as a teacher, he tells us himself, was to search 
for the truth together with his companions. 41 

The newness or freshness of the Dominican approach to religious life and to study is 
brought clearly into focus if we compare the sheer delight enjoyed by Albert and others in 
the task of preaching and teaching with the grim formula of St. Jerome regarding the 
conduct of religious. "The duty of the monk," St. Jerome declares, "is to weep not to 
teach." 42 That centuries-old image of the religious man or monk was an image or a mirage 
which, for several years, seemed to haunt the margins of the lives of the early Dominicans. 
We hear, for example, in the Vitae Fratrum, of how the devil, "the arch-deceiver," assumed 
on occasion the disguise of an austere, monk-like figure in order to make the first 
Dominicans feel guilty about a number of the new dispensations which had been introduced 
into the Order for the sake of study and preaching. Not surprisingly, given the great success 
of his own preaching apostolate, Jordan of Saxony was one of the first to be visited in this 
way. The devil, we are told, in an exaggeratedly reverend disguise, appeared before him, 
and was heard at one point muttering to himself "like a monk saying the Psalter and the 


hours (quasi homo religiosus diceret psalmos et horas)." 43 Jordan, the preacher, was 
warned by the "monk" that if he continued to dispense himself from the Rule he would be 
giving public scandal, and judgements, murmurs and disquiet would be the consequence. 
Fortunately, within days, Jordan was made to understand by God that the grave personage 
who had visited him, the rigid stickler for the law, was none other, in fact, than the devil 
himself who had come to undermine the preacher "from envy of the life he was living and 
envy of his preaching." 44 

A similar kind of occurrence took place, we are told, in the life of Albert the Great. 
According to the report of Thomas of Cantimpre, when St. Albert was at Paris he was visited 
by the devil disguised in the garb of a religious {in specie cuiusdam fratris) 45 The object of 
the devil's spleen, on this occasion, was St. Albert's great devotion to the intellectual life. 
The text states explicitly that the evil one had come in order to draw the preacher away from 
study (ut eum a studio revocaret) 46 But Albert was alert to the devil's deceit. The idea that 
he, a son of Dominic and a preacher, should abandon study was immediately recognised as 
a gross temptation. Albert made the sign of the cross, and at once the apparition 

Proud Scholars or Learned Apostles? 

At the beginning of the second half of the thirteenth century, the Dominicans who 
were devoted to learning such as St. Albert the Great, and in general all the learned friars of 
the new mendicant orders, came under fierce attack. The man who led the charge was 
William of St-Amour, a master at the University of Paris. His treatise, De periculis 
novissimorum temporum (the perils of the last times) took its title from St. Paul's words to 
Timothy: "Know this that, in the last days, will come dangerous times: men will be lovers of 
themselves, covetous, haughty, proud... having indeed an appearance of piety but negating 
or denying the strength of piety" (2 Tim 3:1-5). 48 William of St-Amour, in his attack on the 
new religious, pilloried the friars as men who were, in St. Paul's words, "always learning but 
never attaining to knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:7). 49 They were dangerous forerunners of 
the Antichrist, in his opinion, men dressed in a religious garb but devoted to study, and 
somehow able to wander at will all over the place, preaching in a distinctly learned manner, 
and luminous with the light of secular learning. 50 

Among the new band of scholarly preachers under attack, the one who, in the end, 
decided to stand up to the challenge thrown down by William, was St. Albert the Great's 
most famous and most remarkable pupil, friar Thomas d'Aquino. Answering point by point 
the arguments of William and others like him, Thomas demonstrated with clarity and 
simplicity that it is entirely suitable and necessary for religious, and especially for preachers, 
to be learned. 51 William had argued that, since religious were bound in a particular way to 
humility, they ought to refrain from acquiring knowledge altogether. "Knowledge," he 
declared, quoting St. Paul, "puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Cor 8:1). In his reply to this 
objection, St. Thomas acknowledged that knowledge or science could certainly lead to pride 
if it were not accompanied by charity. But if those who were devoted to study were also 
devoted to works of charity, "there would be little danger in learning." 52 Then Thomas added, 
and with considerable verve: "If we are to avoid knowledge because it leads to pride, we 
ought, on the same grounds, to desist from any good work." 53 

It was, perhaps, to be expected that the learning of the friars preachers would 
sooner or later provoke opposition from outside the Order. But even within the ranks of the 


brethren themselves, the new emphasis on learning met with some fierce opposition. Albert 
speaks, in one place, of people - some of them Dominicans - who, without any 
understanding of the subject, raise objections to the use of philosophy in the work of 
scholars and theologians like himself. And he notes that, even within the Order of 
Preachers, such people are not challenged. "They are like brute animals," he says, "calling 
down anathemas on things of which they have not the slightest idea." 54 Much of this 
opposition to learning within the Order sprang, we may presume, from either jealousy or 
ignorance. But there was also, I would say, a more worthy motive behind at least some of 
the doubts raised concerning study by a number of the early friars, and also by later spiritual 
writers within the Order. The principal point at issue was this, and it is a question of no small 
importance for Dominican spirituality: how will a radical commitment to study, on the part of 
the preacher, affect his sense of devotion and piety? Will it help or will it hinder the "holy 

No one was more committed to research and study than St. Albert the Great. But he 
was not naive. He knew that, like any great gift in life, the gift of learning could be taken up 
and used in the wrong way or in the wrong spirit. And should that happen, in the case of the 
friars preachers, instead of dedicated study being a wonderful aid to them in their preaching, 
it would become a liability. It is no surprise, therefore to find Albert the Great praying on one 
occasion: "Lord Jesus Christ, graciously hear the voice of our sorrow... that we may not be 
seduced by deceitful speech... tempting us to the curiosity of knowledge (curiositate 
scientiae)." 5 For Albert there was nothing wrong with the impulse to explore the mystery of 
things, for that impulse was part of what one might call a kind of sacred curiosity, something 
wholly commendable. But there is another kind of curiosity or intellectual inquisitiveness 
which militates against the work of the preacher and even against the task of study itself. 
Accordingly, St. Thomas, in spite of his own great passion for study and research, does not 
hesitate to point out that an inordinate curiosity, since it draws the mind away to superficial 
distractions, is a danger or a problem, and not only for study itself but for all other mental 
tasks and occupations. 56 

It was, we may presume, in part because of this danger that the early Dominicans 
took the trouble to note down a few stories about the early brethren which underlined the 
need in the life of the preacher for something more than a commitment to study. One of the 
most vivid stories, for example, in the Vitae Fratrum, concerns a certain friar who had a 
great fondness for philosophy. One day, finding himself in a state of rapture, he heard - 
coming, he believed, from the judgement seat of heaven - words of reproof and accusation: 
"You are not a religious but a philosopher!" 57 The story repeats, as it happens, in almost all 
its details, an experience endured by St. Jerome, centuries earlier, so it may or may not be 
true. But it does indicate a certain spiritual tension or concern in the minds and hearts of the 
early Dominicans with regard to learning. A century later, in The Dialogue of St. Catherine of 
Siena, we read of preachers who are so absorbed in their research, and so inordinately 
proud of their knowledge, they have become blind guides. They read scripture, the Father 
explains, but without understanding. "They taste only its letter in their chasing after a 
multiplicity of books, never tasting the marrow of scripture." 58 In the opinion of The Dialogue, 
these men, in thrall to a false curiosity, have lost the fundamental grace of the preacher, 
namely the "hunger and longing for others' salvation." 59 


Knowledge and Devotion 

From the early days of the Order, the dangers attendant on a commitment to study 
were so clear, there was always a risk the Order might lose confidence in the identity given 
to it by Dominic, and focus exclusively on the life of prayer and devotion, ignoring the fact 
that the Order was founded, as The Dialogue puts it, "on the light of learning" for the 
salvation of souls. 60 St. Thomas Aquinas was well aware of Dominic's legacy, and in the 
Summa he confronts head on the question regarding radical commitment to learning and 
the life of devotion. To begin with, Thomas is honest about the risks, from a spiritual point of 
view, of becoming a learned individual. He writes: "In knowledge and in every other 
endowment which belongs to greatness, man finds occasion to trust in himself rather than 
give himself over completely to God. And so, in the case of those who are gifted or learned, 
it can happen that these things are the occasion of devotion being hindered." 61 In 
parenthesis here, it is interesting to note how Thomas's words concerning knowledge 
(scientia) are in some way prophetic of that extreme pride which can sometimes accompany 
our modern information technology, and prophetic also of the way science in particular has, 
over the centuries, tended to become detached from, and even disdainful of, the life of 
devotion. With regard, therefore, to the way Aquinas speaks about knowledge or "scientia" 
we might almost say what George Steiner said in another context concerning another 
author: "[he] seems to 'hear' inside a word or a phrase the history of its future echoes." 62 

In the Summa the sharp warning St. Thomas gives us concerning the potential 
danger of learning does not constitute his most telling or his final pronouncement on the 
matter. That comes a few lines later when, in one short but crucial sentence, he says that, in 
spite of the obvious risks involved, "if a man perfectly submit his learning and his other 
powers to God, his devotion, as a direct result, will be deepened." 63 There, in that last 
phrase, Thomas strikes the characteristic Dominican note. The God to whom we are asked 
to surrender is the God of creation, so there can be no opposition between a commitment to 
science or learning and a life of devotion. On the contrary, even as devotion to God 
deepens, human knowledge or science, while always retaining its inherent, God-given 
freedom, begins to develop into wisdom. And, when that occurs, study is itself, we can say, 
a spirituality. "The learned person," Thomas writes in his commentary on The Divine Names, 
"not only receives information concerning divine things, he also surrenders himself to them. 
So not only does he receive them as information into his mind, he also becomes one thing 
with them by love and by affection (non solum divinorum scientiam in intellectu accipiens, 
seel etiam diligendo, eis unitus est per affectum)." 64 Study, therefore, when deepened in this 
way, leads both to an increase of devotion in the student or theologian, and to actual 
communion with the divine. 

Aquinas - it is well known - almost never speaks of himself in the first person. But 
there are one or two texts in which he comes near to doing precisely that, and the voice we 
hear is that of a genuinely humble man, a philosopher and theologian well aware of his 
great gifts, but even more aware of the enormity of the task he has undertaken. In the 
following passage, for example, from the opening pages of the Summa contra Gentiles, we 
are afforded an unexpected glimpse of Thomas's calm yet utterly focused sense of 
vocation, and of the hidden energy and depth of his personal devotion. He writes: 

Drawing confidence from God's kindness to undertake the office of a wise 
man, though it is an office beyond our powers, we intend so far as we can 
{pro nostro modulo) to set forth the truth professed by the Catholic faith, and 


to eliminate errors opposed to it. For, if I may use the words of Hilary, "I am 
conscious that I owe it to God as the chief office or duty of my life that my 
every word {omnis sermo meus) and perception (sensus) should speak of 
Him." 65 

Study and Happiness 

Dedicated study in any field is a demanding discipline. But the purpose of study 
cannot be achieved if, when sitting down to study, students find themselves relying only on 
the power of grim self-will (what Simone Weil calls "muscular effort" 66 ). In the case of St.. 
Thomas, what explains the extraordinary driving force behind his commitment to study was, 
first and last, his desire to know God, and to know the things of God. Simone Weil, in an 
illuminating statement concerning study, composed for her Dominican friend and confidant, 
Fr. Perrin, writes: 

The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire there must 
be pleasure in the work. The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. 
The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. 
Where it is lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of 
apprentices who, at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a 
trade. It is the part played by joy in our studies that makes of them a 
preparation for spiritual life. 67 

When St. Thomas speaks of "the joy of learning" he is sometimes talking simply 
about the ordinary natural pleasure a student will take in a particular subject. But the 
profound joy of which Thomas speaks most often in his writings, and which he connects with 
study, has to do with the subject or object of that study, namely God. "Contemplation (or 
contemplative study)," he tells us in the Summa, "is delightful by reason of its object, in so 
far as you are contemplating what you love, as is the case in ordinary physical seeing which 
is delightful not only because the act itself is pleasurable but because you are looking at 
someone you love." 68 When that "someone" or that person is God, then what you begin to 
experience, Thomas explains (and even in some measure in this life) is a unique joy. The 
understanding that comes from prayerful study and contemplation is not, therefore, a cold or 
blind abstraction but is already in some sense a beginning of vision, and a joyful vision. 
"When you see the person you love," Thomas says, quoting St. Gregory, "your love is 
inflamed even more." 69 

It is no accident that the word "happy" is linked to St. Thomas in the two most 
important early lives of the saint. "O felix Doctor" is a phrase we hear repeated several times 
by both William Tocco and Bernard Gui as if "happy teacher" were the most perfect and 
exact description of St. Thomas as a man and a theologian. 70 Thomas tells us himself, and 
in a number of places, that contemplative study is "the most delightful of all human 
pursuits." 71 And he notes further that those whose lives are directed towards the pursuit of 
wisdom, are "the happiest anyone can be in this life." 72 The kind of happiness Thomas is 
describing here was manifest, we may presume, in the lives of many of the Dominicans with 
whom he lived and worked and studied, men of generous and passionate intelligence 
"seeking the truth together," as Albert the Great expressed it, "in the pleasure of 
companionship (in dulcedine societatis quaerere veritatem)." 73 Albert, in one of his sermons, 
speaks also of the great delight that he found, as an individual scholar, in private, dedicated 


research, seeking wisdom at night in the quietness of solitude. "That enjoyment is best," he 
remarked, "which is happiest... and that is the enjoyment which people have in their hearts 
with wisdom... I have often spent the whole night like this, never suspecting that even two 
hours of the night had passed." 74 

The Example of St. Thomas 

Already, during the lifetimes of Albert and Thomas, people expressed amazement at 
the depth and extent of their literary output. One witness at Thomas's canonization enquiry 
remarked: "[l]t does not seem possible for a man using merely human powers to have 
written so many great works in so short a time." 75 One part of the explanation is, I would 
suggest, that those who really enjoy their work are almost always the most outstanding at 
their particular task. Thomas himself remarks that "pleasure increases activity" and so those 
who find pleasure in their work, he says, "make great progress in their own particular field." 76 
Aquinas's powers of concentration were legendary. "It was as though the prayer of his mind 
never ceased," Bernard Gui tells us, "and in fact no external business could ever distract it 
from the thoughts in which he delighted." 77 On one occasion Thomas became so absorbed 
in thought or meditation, he forgot where he was, ignoring completely the fact that he was 
seated beside an important ecclesiastical figure who had come expressly to meet him. 
Waking up from his trance, Thomas exclaimed: "My Lord, please excuse me: I thought I 
was still in my cell. A beautiful idea has just occurred to me for the work on which I am 
engaged at present - a really wonderful idea it was and it gave me such pleasure!" 78 

On the subject of Thomas's dedication to study and research, there is another story, 
this time from Tocco, which reveals in a striking, and I think amusing, way, the emphatically 
intellectual character of the saint. 79 Once, when Thomas was praying in the Dominican 
convent at Naples, there appeared to him in a vision a certain Brother Romanus whom he 
had last seen in Paris. Romanus said to Thomas: "I have passed from this life, but I am 
allowed to come to you on account of your merits." Thomas was shaken at first by the 
apparition, but summoning up his courage, he said to Romanus: "If it be pleasing to God, I 
adjure you by God to answer my questions." 80 The saint then put to Romanus two rather 
straightforward questions, the first concerning himself, his work and the state of his soul, 
and the second, concerning the spiritual condition of his friend. But, with the third and final 
question we hear, all of a sudden, breaking into the story, as it were, the voice of friar 
Thomas d'Aquino, the searching, indefatigable scholar and passionate scholastic. Without 
any preamble, he says to Romanus: "On that question we have so often discussed together 
concerning the habits of knowing we acquire here [on earth]: do they remain with us in the 
fatherland?" 81 It was an unexpected question to put to an apparition, and certainly not the 
sort of question we imagine saints, or those who have visions of this kind, are normally 
inclined to ask. The answer Brother Romanus gives is short and, perhaps, not surprisingly, 
negative. "Brother Thomas, I see God," he declares, "and you may not question me further 
on that subject." 82 

Now that would seem to be that, with no more to be said: the end, it would appear, of 
a brief excursus into scholasticism. But Thomas returns at once to his point. Vision or no 
vision, he is a scholar with a question on his mind, and he is not going to be easily thwarted. 
"Since you see God," he says to Romanus, "can you see Him directly, in an immediate way, 
or only by means of a likeness?" The ghostly visitant, at this stage, has clearly had enough. 
He chooses to bow out of the discussion at once and disappear, but not before delivering a 
short, mystical citation: "As we have heard so we have seen in the city of our God!" 83 


For St. Thomas engagement in thought and speculation was never merely an 
intellectual pursuit. It was always part of a contemplative quest and adventure. It is no 
exaggeration, therefore, to say that, in Thomas's work, theology and spirituality are always 
one and the same thing. On this point, Jean-Pierre Torrell writes: "If St. Thomas never felt 
the need to develop a spirituality alongside his theology, that's simply because theology is 
itself 'une science pieuse,' as Pere Chenu loved to say." 84 But if theology is for St. Thomas 
always a contemplative task, that does not mean it became, in his life, a substitute for 
prayer. On the contrary, we are told by one of the early witnesses at the canonization 
enquiry that "all his writing began with prayer, and in all his difficulties he had recourse to 
prayer." 85 Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged that, in more than one respect, Thomas 
did not conform to the accepted model of a saint. 86 He was pious certainly, but he was also 
a man obsessed with the desire for knowledge and with the desire to know God. And, in the 
end, that obsession itself was part of his holiness. A.D. Sertillanges, in his celebrated work, 
La Vie intellectuelle, writes: "[l]t is the thinker's special characteristic to be obsessed by the 
desire for knowledge." 87 But study - the impulse to study - being like prayer rooted in 
desire, can itself become a form of prayer. Sertillanges calls it "active prayer," 88 a way of 
praying without ceasing. And that is precisely what study became for St. Thomas. 

Study and Freedom 

"We theologians live by the promise of Christ: 'the truth will set you free' (Jn 8:32). " 89 
That clear statement of vocation was made by the Dominican exegete and theologian, 
Dominique Barthelemy, in an address he gave on the feast of St. Albert the Great in 1990. 
True liberty, Barthelemy went on to explain, cannot be handed down by a fixed, juridical 
framework. "It can only be gained by a demanding, patient and lucid search for the truth." 90 
No small part of the intellectual discipline to which Barthelemy is referring here is the task 
we call scholarship. At first sight, scholarship may seem to have little or nothing to do with 
spirituality or with the life of prayer. So why then should it be thought necessary? In a short 
but insightful paper, entitled Scholarship, Sanctity and Spirituality, Simon Tugwell points out 
that "scholarship helps to keep open or to re-open the options that are actually there in the 
church." 91 He recalls the fact that Teresa of Avila always preferred learned directors to 
merely pious ones. "Spiritual but unlearned directors were cramped by their own experience, 
they knew only one way to be Christian." In contrast, "Learned directors... were more free 
precisely because of their learning, more free to recognise as legitimate ways of being 
Christian which were not part of the prevailing ethos." 92 The reality is, of course, that people 
will often be swayed by the fashions of their own age. And this holds true for spirituality as 
for everything else. What scholarship, at its ordinary best, can help us to see is that the 
authentic gospel tradition is not limited by the dominant fashions of thought and feeling of 
one particular generation. 93 

The most notable example, in Dominican history, of a scholar and theologian whose 
work helped liberate his own and later generations from the tyranny of a single vision, is St. 
Thomas Aquinas. His first biographer, William Tocco, stresses the newness of Thomas's 
approach to almost everything. "In his lectures," Tocco writes, "he confronted new 
difficulties, and discovered a new and clear way of solving them, and he used new 
arguments in arriving at these solutions." 94 The dominant fashion in theology, at that period, 
drew much of its inspiration from the Platonic and neo-Platonic traditions. But the teaching 
of Aristotle, in contrast, was considered a potential threat to the Christian gospel. For 
several years, in fact, before St. Thomas arrived in Paris, there had been a ban on teaching 
Aristotle at the University. 95 So what was it that prompted Thomas, as a young man, to 


resist the dominant, theological thinking of his time, and open his mind to the teaching of the 
Greek? Why trust a source that so many revered theologians among his contemporaries 
considered tainted and dangerous? One answer to this question can be found in a single 
statement made by St. Thomas in a letter sent to a certain Brother John, concerning study. 
Thomas writes: "Do not heed by whom a thing is said, but rather what is said you should 
commit to memory." 96 And, again, in another place: "When taking up or rejecting opinions, a 
person should not be led by love or hate concerning who said them but rather by the 
certainty of truth. He [Aristotle] says we should love both kinds of people: those whose 
opinions we follow, and those whose opinions we reject. For both study to find the truth, and 
in this way both give us assistance." 97 

In part, as a direct result of Thomas's openness to the philosophy of Aristotle, his 
work fell under a cloud of suspicion for several years. Propositions taken from his work, or 
associated with his work, were condemned first of all by the Bishop of Paris and then later 
by the Archbishop of Canterbury. 98 Only after his death, in fact, was the cloud of suspicion 
surrounding his writings finally dispelled. 99 It is no small irony that friar Thomas d'Aquino, the 
theologian and scholar who would later come to be known as Doctor communis in the 
universal church, was at first regarded by many in the church as a sign of contradiction. 
Thomas himself, needless to say, was no lover of controversy for its own sake. But when, 
on certain occasions, the message of the gospel was at stake, he was not afraid to speak 
out, and to engage with others in free and open debate. Always obedient to church 
teaching, he was at the same time not unaware that his writings were of sufficient originality 
and force to provoke strong opposition from certain elements within the church. In the end, 
however, no amount of opposition was able to negate the quiet, purposeful witness and 
wisdom of his life and work. 

The Freedom of Lagrange and Congar 

In more recent times, a comparable shadow of suspicion fell across the writings of 
the Dominican exegete and theologian, M.-J. Lagrange. Notable for his courage and humble 
faith, Lagrange persisted in pursuing his research and study even though he knew it would 
bring him enormous suffering. To Desqueyroux he wrote, quoting St. Jerome: "Knowingly 
and prudently I put my hand into the fire {Sciens et prudens manum mi si in ignem)."™ What 
is profoundly moving in all the writings of Lagrange during this period is his complete 
surrender to the final judgement of church authority. From beginning to end he stood firm in 
what Barthelemy calls "the double mission" of the theologian: "that of maintaining freedom 
of theological research and that of remaining fully rooted in the midst of the church." 101 

Yves Congar was another Dominican theologian, in modern times, who had to 
endure long and sustained opposition before the radiant truth of what he was saying 
became clear to everyone. At one point, exiled from Paris and from his brethren there and 
ordered to be "silent," Congar expressed something of his distress in a letter to his eighty- 
year-old mother. "The French Dominicans," he wrote, "have been persecuted and reduced 
to silence... because they were the only ones who possessed a certain freedom of thought, 
of enterprise and of expression. Of course, there can be no freedom without orthodoxy, but 
orthodoxy must also have, as its sources, the Bible, the Fathers, etc." 102 Congar, as much 
as anyone in his generation, understood the importance, within the church, of the freedom 
to think and to study, and the freedom to speak. 103 For Congar, throughout all his adult life, 
that freedom was part of his vocation as a scholar and a preacher, and part also of his 


priesthood. Study was not merely a sort of academic duty or right. It was part of a sacred 
trust, a commission from God to preach the Word. 

In an address he delivered in 1951, Congar cited with manifest enthusiasm a 
passage from the work of the nineteenth century Dominican, Henri Dominique Lacordaire. 
Lacordaire had worked tirelessly in France for the freedom to teach - freedom for Catholics 
and freedom also for others. But here, in this passage, Lacordaire speaks exclusively of his 
own experience as a preacher of the Word: "I never had a better grasp of freedom than on 
the day when, together with the blessing of the sacred oils, I received the right to speak of 
God. The universe then opened up before me, and I realized that in the human being there 
is something inalienable, divine and eternally free - the Word! The Word had been 
entrusted to me, as a priest, and I was told to carry it to the ends of the earth, no one having 
the right to seal my lips a single day of my life." 104 

Study and the Neighbour 

The hope of the early Dominicans was that, through their teaching and preaching, 
they might be "useful to the souls of [their] neighbours." 105 But learning, even of a 
theological nature, can sometimes turn in on itself, and become self-absorbed. One clear 
indication that the early Dominicans were determined not to let this happen, but instead to 
keep the focus of their attention fixed always on the neighbour, is an anecdote they took the 
trouble to preserve concerning Dominic. According to the report of Brother Stephen, when 
Dominic "was still a student, he sold his books and fed the poor during a time of famine." 106 
The reason Dominic gave for his action is worth noting. "I refuse," he said, "to study dead 
skins while men are dying of hunger." 107 

The sharp awareness of human need in that statement springs not only from the 
tenderness of Dominic's heart but also, I suspect, from countless days and nights of 
devoted study and contemplation. Writing in the mid-thirteenth century, an anonymous 
Dominican at St-Jacques in Paris notes that, among the things "a man ought to see in 
contemplation," and ought "to write in the book of his heart," are "the needs of his 
neighbour." 108 And he says further: "He ought to see [in contemplation] what he would like to 
have done for himself, if he were in such need." 109 That particular understanding of the task 
of prayer and study has survived in the Order into modern times. Writing only a few years 
ago, Timothy Radcliffe, when he was Master of the Order, remarked: "A theology that 
remains abstract, untouched by the sufferings of our poor violent world, has not begun its 
task." And he adds: "Let me remind you of the words of our brother Hyacinthe Cormier... the 
study of 'the holy books of Scripture demand of us that we acquire the entrails of mercy and 
extend them.'" 1 

In her essay "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies," composed by Simone 
Weil in 1942, and sent to her Dominican friend, Fr. Perrin, Weil notes that the effort we 
make to concentrate on our studies - that particular energy of attention - should help us 
afterwards to devote our attention to our neighbour, and especially to the neighbour whom 
we see to be in need. She writes: "The useless efforts made by the Cure d'Ars, for long and 
painful years, in his attempt to learn Latin bore fruit in the marvellous discernment which 
enabled him to see the very soul of his penitents behind their words and even their 
silences." 111 Our struggles, and even our failures in our studies, might in the end be more 
valuable than our achievements. Sometimes - Aquinas tells us in the Summa - our own 
particular difficulties help us to grieve over others' misfortunes as if they were our own. Very 


different, he says, are those people who are always successful, "those who regard 
themselves as so fortunate and powerful as to imagine that no evil can befall them: such 
have no pity." 112 And he concludes: "Thus it is always some want in us that moves us to 
mercy (semper defectus est ratio miserendi)."" 3 

Already, in this paper, attention has been given to the theme of happiness in the 
Dominican tradition of study. But, in the Acts of the last general chapter of the Order, we 
were reminded that "The intellectual mission of the Order calls us to share not just the 
'gaudium et spes' [the joy and hope], but also the 'luctus et angor' [the grief and anguish] of 
our time." 114 That task or mission is one which demands from us a particular kind of study 
and attention (what Simone Weil would have called "creative attention" 115 ). For not only the 
"joy and hope" of our generation but also the "grief and anguish" of the poor and oppressed 
are things we must write in the book of our heart. 

Books and the Book 

Learning needs books. It feeds off books. The unique conversation with the past and 
the present which we call theology is impossible without a library of some sort. For good 
reason, therefore, books were treated with enormous respect by the early Dominicans. "It's 
astonishing," writes Guy Bedouelle, "to see the place books occupy in the earliest 
Dominican texts... A brother was to carry neither gold nor silver, or any money; but on the 
other hand he might carry books, his working tools." 116 Humbert of Romans speaks of 
books, in one place, as if they were hallowed objects. 117 And St. Thomas, quoting Jerome, 
writes: "Let a book never be absent from your eyes and hand." 118 

The study undertaken by Dominicans should focus attention both on eternal things 
and on the natural world around us. Humbert of Romans, in his treatise on preaching, says 
that all creation is itself "a book," and that "those who know how to read this book will draw 
from it many things which are very serviceable for helping people to grow." 119 But there is 
also a sense in which Dominicans themselves - and in particular their lives as preachers - 
are called to be a living text or book for others to read. Centuries before Mahatma Ghandi 
said so memorably, "Let our lives be open books for all to study," a Dominican of the 
thirteenth century, an Englishman, had boldly suggested that the preacher's life should itself 
be a "book," and that, in this book, all those who see the preacher should be able to read 
and study the things of God. 120 

Dominic himself, we know, carried books with him on his journeys. 121 But, although 
he certainly needed books for the task of preaching, it was not on written texts alone or on 
learned commentaries that Dominic relied. Asked once by someone, who had been 
particularly impressed by his learning and his preaching, which books he studied most, 
Dominic replied that he "studied more in the book of charity than in any other {in libro 
caritatis plus quam in a//o)." 122 By the phrase, "the book of charity," Dominic is referring here 
to the saving message of God's love revealed on the cross. In similar vein, Catherine of 
Siena speaks, in one of her letters, of the event of Christ's death as "the book of life." 123 It is, 
Catherine says, a truth, a revelation, written "not with ink but with blood," and "with such 
large letters" that all of us, no matter how great or small our intelligence might be, can read 
it easily. 124 "This our Master," she says, "was raised up on the chair of the cross so that we 
could study him better." And what we discover in this "book of life," the truth or message that 
we read, is "the eternal Father's truth, the ineffable love with which we were created." 1 5 


Over a hundred years earlier, that small phrase "the book of life" occurs in one of 
Jordan of Saxony's most memorable letters to his great friend, the Dominican 
contemplative, Diana d'Andalo. What is written in "the book of life," Jordan tells Diana, is 
love or charity: "[Y]ou find it written with a strange beauty when you gaze at Jesus your 
Saviour stretched out like a sheet of parchment on the Cross inscribed with wounds, 
illustrated in his own loving blood. Where else, I ask you, my dearest, is there a comparable 
book of love to read from?" 126 Jordan speaks of the cross as a book, but he also refers to it 
as a scroll (volumen). And it was, perhaps, that word "scroll" which brought to his mind, all of 
a sudden, the passage in Ezekiel in which the prophet is commanded by God to "eat the 
book" or "eat the scroll." In any case, Jordan at once begins to connect the "writing" or 
message of the cross of Christ with the scroll of Ezekiel. For Jordan the cross is nothing 
other than the new "book of life." It is the final scroll we have been given by God to read and 
study. And so he says to Diana: 

Turn this book over, open it, read it; you will find in it what the prophet found: 
lamentations, song and woe. 127 Lamentations, because of the pains which he 
endured; a song of gladness, which he won for you by his pains; and the woe 
of unending death, from which he redeemed you by his death. In his 
lamentation learn to have patience in yourself, learn love in his song of joy, 
because surely he has the first claim on your love, seeing that he wanted you 
to be a sharer in such great joys. And when you realize that you have been 
rescued from that woe, what else should result but thanksgiving and the 
sound of praise? 128 

Although, for the discipline of theology, we need to read many books, what we will 
gain, in the end, is mere information unless we begin, as students of the gospel, to turn over 
in our minds and read and study what Dominic and Jordan and Catherine called "the book 
of life" or "the book of love." One of the sure signs that we have begun, in an authentic way, 
to read and study theology is when our reading and study lead us not only to new 
knowledge and information concerning the gospel, but also to thanksgiving and praise. 


Paul Lee, Nunneries (York: 2001). 

Letter XVII. See Margaret Ebner: Major Works, trans. LP. Hindsley (New York 1993), 36. 

Letter XLVII. See Margaret Ebner: Major Works, 36. 

Humbert of Romans, Treatise on the Formation of Preachers, VII, 82, in Early Dominicans, ed. 

Simon Tugwell, O.P. (New York 1982), 205. 

St. Catherine of Siena, // Dialogo delta divina providenza, LXXXV, ed. G. Cavallini (Rome 1968), 


Jordan of Saxony, Libellus de principiis ordinis praedicatorum, 7, in Monumenta ordinis praedica- 

torum historica, Vol.XVI, ed. M.-H. Laurent, O.P. (Rome 1935), 28; trans. S. Tugwell, O.P., in Jordan 

of Saxony: On the Beginnings of the Friars Preachers (Dublin 1982), 1 . 

Libellus, 7, 28-9; trans. Tugwell, 1-2. 

Acta canonizationis s. Dominici, 29, in MOPH, XVI (Roma 1935), 147. Italics mine. 

Ibid. Italics mine. 

Eighth Way of Prayer, The Nine Ways of Prayer [of St Dominic], in Early Dominicans, 101 . 



12 Libellus, 6, 28; trans. Tugwell, 1. (See Psalm 119:103: "How sweet are thy words to my taste, 
sweeter than honey to my mouth!") 

13 Italics mine. 

14 Prologue, "The Early Dominican Constitutions," in Early Dominicans, 457. 

15 Humbert of Romans, Expositio super constitutiones, XII, in Opera de vita regulari, II, ed., J.J. 
Berthier (Rome 1889), 41. Note also, in the Expositio, the section entitled "De utilitate studii in 
nostro ordine," VIII, 28-31. Although every Dominican was expected to study, not every Dominican 
was expected to be a great scholar. Once, when Jordan of Saxony was fiercely attacked by the 
brethren for having encouraged into the Order young men who were not particularly intelligent or 
educated, Jordan replied: "Let them be.. .I tell you that you will see many of them... turn out to be 
splendid preachers, through whom the Lord will work more for the salvation of souls than he does 
through many more intelligent and educated men." See Thomas of Cantimpre, Bonum universale 
de apibus, II, xix, 2 (Douais 1627), 227; trans. S. Tugwell, Early Dominicans, 132. 

16 IIDialogo, 158,463. 

17 Ibid., 158,459-60. 

18 Liam Walsh, O.P., "Dominican Study and the Experience of God," Dominican Monastic Search 
(November 1984), 58-9. 

19 Prologue, "The Early Dominican Constitutions," in Early Dominicans, 457. 


The Early Dominican Constitutions," 13, in Early Dominicans, 466. 

21 Cited in "Anniversary Sermon for Fr. Vincent McNabb" by Hilary J. Carpenter, O.P., in A Vincent 
McNabb Anthology: Selections from the Writings of Vincent McNabb O.P., ed. F.E. Nugent (London 
1955),. ix. 

22 Relaciones espirituales, XXXIII, in Obras de Sta Teresa de Jesus, ed. Silverio de Sta Teresa, 
O. CD. (Burgos 1915), 63. 

23 Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans., R. Challoner (Dublin 1915), 3. Elsewhere in The 
Imitation we read: "Leave off that excessive desire of knowing, because there is found therein much 
distraction and deceit" (5-6). 

24 Jordan of Saxony, "Encyclical Letter, May 1233," in Early Dominicans, 123. Italics mine. 

25 Ibid., 123-24. In the Vitae Fratrum the story is told of a pious German friar who experienced so 
much pleasure in contemplation that "he put aside all study." However, "his brethren, noting his 
conduct, accused him of making himself unfit for the duties of the Order by not applying himself to 
study." "De progressu ordinis," V, ii, in Vitae Fratrum, 4, in MOPH, Vol. I, ed. B.M. Reichert, O.P. 
(Louvain 1896), 160-61. 

26 "II Paradiso," canto XII, 97-99; trans. J. D. Sinclair, The Divine Comedy: Paradiso (Oxford 1971), 

The witness, Abbot William Pierre, gave his testimony at the Languedoc canonization process. 
See Acta canonizationis s. Dominici, 18, in MOPH, XVI (Roma 1935), 182-83. The translation is by 
S. Tugwell, in Dominic by Vladimir Koudelka, O.P. (London 1997), 138, n.138. 


This testimony was given at the Bologna canonization process by Brother Ventura. 
See Acta canonizationis s. Dominici, 11, 132. See Koudelka, 122, no. 104. 
29 "II Paradiso", canto XII, 56, Sinclair, 176. 


That splendid observation came from the pen of Matthew Paris in the middle of the thirteenth 
century. It was not intended, however, as a compliment. Paris contrasted the "decent and orderly" 
life of enclosed religious with the outrageous freedom of the friars who, instead of remaining all the 
time in their monasteries, were out "wandering round the towns and countryside." See Chron. Mai. 
V (Rolls Series 57e), 529; cited in Simon Tugwell, The Way of the Preacher (London 1981), 13. 
M. Michele Mulchahey, "First the Bow is Bent in Study": Dominican Education before 1350 (Toronto 
1998), 54. For other helpful assessments of the place of study in the life of the early Dominicans, 
see Guy Bedouelle, O.P., Saint Dominic: The Grace of the Word, trans. M.T. Noble, O.P. (San 
Francisco 1987), 155-68; Bedouelle, "Study in the Life of the Early Dominicans," Dominican 
Ashram, Vol.14, 4 (December 1995), 177-88; Leonard E. Boyle, O.P., The Dominican Order and 


Theological Study (New York 1995); Pedro Jose Diaz Camacho, O.P. (ed.), Pasion por la verdad: 
el estudio en el carisma dominicano (Bucaramanga 2000); Alfonso D'Amato, O.P., "Lo Studio," in // 
Progetto di San Domenico (Bologna 1994), 88-99; Andre Duval, O.P., "L'etude dans la legislation 
religieuse de s. Dominique," in Melanges offerts a M.-D.Chenu (Paris 1967), 221-47; Antolin 
Gonzalez Fuente, O.P., "El estudio asiduo de la verdad sagrada," in El carisma de la vida 
dominicana (Salamanca 1994), 183-97; William A. Hinnebusch, O.P., The History of the Dominican 
Order, Vol. II, Intellectual and Cultural Life to 1500 (New York 1973); Simon Tugwell, O.P., "The 
Intellectual Life," in Early Dominicans, 24-7; James A. Weisheipl, O.P., The Place of Study in the 
Ideal of St Dominic (River Forest 1960). 

"Primitive Constitutions," XXVIII, in Saint Dominic: Biographical Documents, ed. F.C. Lehner, O.P. 
(Washington 1964), 245. The admonition concerning pagan or secular writings was not something 
peculiar to the friars preachers. It represented, in fact, one of the ordinary norms or rules for clerical 
education at that time. See Mulchahey, 57. 

M.-D. Chenu, O.P., "The Revolutionary Intellectualism of St Albert," Blackfriars 19 (1938), 5-15. For 
a more recent and more detailed assessment of Albert's contribution to the development of 
science, see William A. Wallace, "The Scientific Methodology of St. Albert the Great," in Albertus 
Magnus Doctor Universalis 1280/1980, eds. G. Meyer and A. Zimmermann (Mainz 1980), 385-407. 
Ibid., 6. 
Ibid., 11. 

Ibid. Chenu refers loosely here to the Paris of 1250, but Albert had almost certainly left Paris 
for Cologne two years earlier. 

In Evangelium secundum Matthaeum, 13:35, in Opera omnia B. Alberti Magni, Vol. XX, ed. A. 
Borgnet (Paris 1893), 571; cited in Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings, ed. S. Tugwell, O.P. 
(New York 1988), 29. 

De caelo et mundo, Bk.2, Tract. IV, xi, in Opera omnia, Vol. IV (Paris 1890), 232. 
De animalibus, Bk.7, Tract. I, iii, in Opera omnia, Vol. XI (Paris 1891), 372-73; cited in Hieronymus 
Wilms, O.P., Albert the Great: Saint and Doctor of the Church, trans., E. English (London 1933), 32. 
De mineralibus, Bk.4, Tract. I, vi, in Opera omnia, Vol.V (Paris 1890), 90. 

Politica, Bk. 8, vi, in Opera omnia, Vol.VIII (Paris 1891), 804. See Yves Congar, '"In dulcedine 
societatis quaerere veritatem': Notes sur le travail en equipe chez S. Albert et chez les precheurs au 
XIII siecle," in G. Meyer (ed.) Albertus Magnus Doctor Universalis, 47-57. 

St. Jerome, Liber contra Vigilantium, PL, XXIII, 351 B. See Reginald Ladner, O.P., "The Plight of 
Preaching in the Twelfth Century," in Pierre Mandonnet, O.P., St Dominic and His Work, trans. M. B. 
Larkin (London 1944), 131-32. See also Early Dominicans, 7-8. 
"De sancte memoria fratre lordane," XXVIII, in Vitae Fratrum, 3, 123, n.12. 
Ibid., 123. 

Thomas of Cantimpre (c.1 201 -c. 1276), Bonum universale de apibus, II, Ivii, 34, (Douais 1627), 563. 

A play based on the life of St. Albert the Great was published over seventy years ago by a 
Dominican of the Saulchoir. Of particular interest is the scene in which the devil tempts Albert to 
abandon study. See Claude Just (A.-M.Roguet, O.P.), Saint Albert le Grand celebre par 
personnages, 2, IX (Paris 1932), 61-65. 

The phrase "an appearance of piety" does not occur in modern English translations of Paul's letter. 
But the Latin phrase "speciem pietatis" occurs in the Vulgate version of the letter with which, of 
course, Willliam of St-Amour would have been familiar. 

All the details in this paragraph concerning the attack by William of St-Amour on the friars, are taken 
from the summary of that attack given by Aquinas in Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, 
X-XI, in Opera omnia s. Thomae Aquinatis, Vol. XLI, ed. Leon. (Rome 1970), A130 - A137. 

50 Ibid., X, 1, A130, and XI, 1-2, A131-A132. 

51 Ibid., XI, 3, 151-54, A133. 

52 Ibid., XI, 4, 190-91, A134. 



53 Ibid. Earlier, in the same text, Thomas gives short shrift to Williams's suggestion that the teaching 
of the friars was in direct contradiction with the "perfect humility" of life to which they had vowed 
themselves. "The notion," he writes, "that religious profess perfect humility is false. Religious make 
no vow of humility. Their vow is of obedience." Ibid., II, 4, 530-33, A61. (I am grateful to my 
confrere, Charles Morerod, O.P., for drawing my attention to this brief and robust rejoinder from 

Albert the Great, In Epistolam VII Dionysii, 2, in Opera omnia, Vol. XIV, ed. Borgnet (Paris 1892) 
910a. In another place Albert's exasperation with the enemies of study is just as clear. Disturbed by 
the way a few sour and lazy people were able to interfere with the honest research undertaken by 
others, he writes: "I make these remarks on account of certain idlers who, searching for a way to 
excuse or comfort their own idleness, confine their studies [literally, their "writings"] to fault-finding. 
And since they themselves are utterly lazy and sluggish (torpentes in inertia), in order not to be 
seen as lazy, they set about trying to spot blemishes in the great. These were the sort of people 
who killed Socrates, drove Plato from Athens and, through their machinations, conspired even to 
have Aristotle cast out." Politica, Bk.8, cap.VI, 803-804. 

"Oratio IV" (Dominica quarta in adventu Domini), Orationes super evangelia dominicalia, in Opera 

omnia, Vol.XIII, ed., Borgnet (Paris 1891), 346. 

See Contra impugnantes, cap. IX, 4, 6, A134. For a helpful reflection on "curiositas" in St. Thomas, 

see Liam G. Walsh, O.P., "St Thomas and Study," in La Formazione integrate domenicana, ed. 

Robert Christian, O.P. (Bologna 1996), 228ff. An earlier version of this paper was published in The 

Renewal Papers (Tallaght 1994), 58-89. 

See "De progressu ordinis," XIX, iii, in Vitae Fratrum, 4, 208-09. 

// Dialogo, 85, 194; trans. S. Noffke, O.P., Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue, 85 (New York 1980), 



Ibid., 158, 459; trans. Noffke, 337. 

ST, II ll,q.82, a. 3, ad 3. 

Cited in Alan Ecclestone, A Staircase for Silence (London 1977), 105. 

ST, II ll,q.82, a. 3, ad 3. 

See Expositio in librum b. Dionysii de divinis nominibus, no. 191, ed. Marietti (Rome 1950), 59. 

Summa contra Gentiles, Bk.l, cap. II, in Opera omnia sancti Thomae Aquinatis, ed. Leon. (Roma 

1968), 6; cited by W. H. Principe in Thomas Aquinas' Spirituality (Toronto 1984), 14. 

Simone Weil, Waiting on God, trans., E. Craufurd (Glasgow 1983), 70. 

Ibid., 71. 

ST, II II, q. 180, a.7. 

II II, q.180, a.7, ad 1. For the source in Gregory, see Homil. in Ezekiel, II, horn. 2, PL 76,953. 

See William Tocco, Vita s. Thomae Aquinatis, ed. D. Prummer, fasc. II, in Fontes vitae s. Thomae 

Aquinatis, and Bernard Gui, Vita s. Thomae Aquinatis, in Fontes vitae, fasc. Ill; documents edited 

from the Revue thomiste, 1913-1927. 

Summa contra Gentiles, Bk.l, cap. II, in Opera omnia sancti Thomae Aquinatis, ed. Leon. (Rome 

1968), 6. 

Sententia libri ethicorum, Vol. X, XI, 1177b31, in Opera omnia Sancti Thomae de Aquino, Vol. XLVII, 

ed. Leon. (Roma 1969), 588. 

73 Politica, Bk. 8, vi, in Opera Omnia, Vol.VIII (Paris 1891), 804. 

74 See the article by J.B. Schneyer on the sermons of Albert, in Archivum fratrum praedicatorum, 34 
(1964), 56; cited in Albert and Thomas, 29. 

75 Proces. canonizationis s. Thomae, Napoli, in Fontes vitae, ed. M.-H. Laurent, 384; documents edited 
from Revue thomiste, 1912-1928; trans. K. Foster, O.P., in The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: 
Biographical Documents (London 1959), 113-114. 

76 Sententia libri ethicorum, Vol.X, VII, 1 175a29, 572. 

77 Bernard Gui, XV, 183. See also Foster, 37. 








78 Gui,XXV, 192; Foster, 45. 

79 "De visione fratris Romani," in William Tocco, XLV, 118-19. A version of this story can also be found 
in Bernard Gui, XIX, 186-87. 

80 William Tocco, XLV, 119. 

81 Ibid. 

82 Ibid. 

83 Ibid. 

84 Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., "Ascese intellectuelle et vie spirituelle," in La Vie spirituelle, 
733 (December 1999), 613. 

William Tocco was the witness. See Proces. canonizationis s. Thomae, Napoli, LVIII, in Fontes, 346. 

86 He was not noted, for example, for working miracles. There is a story - some say a legend - that 

when it came to his canonization so few miracles were found in Thomas's life that an objection was 

raised against canonizing him. But Pope John XXII intervened on behalf of the saint, remarking that 

every question Thomas answered was in itself a miracle. See Albert and Thomas, 259. 

D. Sertillanges, O.P., The Intellectual Life, trans. M. Ryan (Cork 1965), 71. 

Ibid., 70. 

Dominique Barthelemy, O.P., "The Responsibility of the Theologian," Dominican Ashram, Vol.10, 2 

(June 1991), 69. 


Simon Tugwell, O.P., "Scholarship, Sanctity and Spirituality," An address given at Gonzaga 

University in the States, and published in pamphlet form, March 1983. 

Ibid. Italics mine. 

This point, with respect to theology in general, was made by J.M.R. Tillard, O.P. in "Theologie et vie 
ecclesiale," Initiation a la pratique de la theologie, Vol. I, eds. B. Laurent and F. Refoule (Paris 1982), 
172-77. Tillard's fine paper, while giving due importance to the creative role of theology within the 
church, has the merit also of indicating the differences which exist between the teaching role of 
scholars and theologians and that of bishops. 
William Tocco, Vita s. Thomae Aquinatis, XIV, 81. Italics mine. 

Officially the ban remained in place until 1250. But for some years before that, repeated interdictions 
from Rome had been largely ignored. See Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas: The 
Person and His Work, trans. R. Royal (Washington 1996), 38. 

Epistola de modo studendi, in Opuscula Omnia, Vol. IV, ed. P. Mandonnet (Paris 1927), 535. Italics 
mine. Although the historical grounds for the letter's authenticity are by no means conclusive, James 
Weisheipl, O.P., notes that "its authenticity has been tentatively accepted by all scholars since 
Quetif-Echard." See Friar Thomas D'Aquino: His Life and Thought, and Works (Washington 1983), 
397-98. See also Victor White, O.P., "The Letter of St Thomas to Brother John: De modo studendi," 
in Life of the Spirit (Oxford: Blackfriars, Dec. 1944) Suppl., 161-80. 

See Sententia super metaphysicam, XII, 9, 2566, ed. Marietti (Torino 1971), 599. Elsewhere 
Thomas notes that "any truth no matter by whom it is said, is from the Holy Spirit (omne verum, a 
quocumque dicatur, est a Spiritu Sancto)." ST., I- II, q.109, a.1 , ad 1 . 

See Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas:The Person and His Work, 299-304. There were others, 

of course, during Thomas' lifetime, who were active supporters and defenders of his work. 

Ibid., 323-24. 

M.-J. Lagrange, Letter to Desqueyroux, 3 July 1901. See B. Montagnes, "Premiers combats du P. 

Lagrange: la conference de Toulouse (1902)," Archivum fratrum praedicatorum, 61 (1991) 358; 

cited in Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., "The Wellspring of Hope: Study and the Annunciation of the Good 

News," Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation (Dublin 1999), 77. 

101 Barthelemy, 68. 

102 Yves Congar, O.P., "Lettre a sa mere," in Journal d'un theologien, 1946-1956 (Paris 2001), 425. 







103 On 23 March, 1954, Congar made the following note in his journal: "Dire la verite. Prudemment, 
sans scandale provocant et inutile. Mais demeurer - et devenir de plus en plus - un temoin 
authentique et pur de ce qui est vrai. Continuer au maximum a ecrire dans la meme sens, utilisant 
toutes les chances encore libres." Journal, 271 . 

104 See Le Pere Lacordaire by Ch. De Montalembert (Paris 1862), 30; cited by Yves Congar, in "La 
liberte dans la vie de Lacordaire," Les Voies du Dieu vivant: theologie et vie spirituelle (Paris 1962), 

105 Prologue, "The Early Dominican Constitutions," in Early Dominicans, 457. 

106 Acta canonizationis s. Dominici, 35, MOFH, Vol.XVI, 153 

107 Ibid., 154. 

108 "Vidit Jacob...": Expositio I super Apocalypsim, Ch.l, edited under the name of Thomas Aquinas in 
Opera omnia, Opuscula dubia, Vol. I (Parma 1868), 334. 

109 Ibid., 335. 

110 Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., "An Integral Dominican Formation," Dominican Ashram, 14 (June 1995), 

111 "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies," in Waiting on God, 68-9. 

112 ST., Il-ll, q.30, a.2; trans. R.J. Batten, O.P., Vol.34, Blackfriars Ed. (London 1974), 215. 

113 Ibid. 

114 Prologue, "The Intellectual Life," Acts of the Elective Chapter of the Friars of the Order of Preach- 
ers, Providence 2001, no. 109 (Rome 2001), 46. A comparable statement was made in a published 
sermon by Albert the Great. Speaking of some awkward people who cut themselves off from the 
joys and griefs of their neighbours, Albert says "You should make your heart like your neighbour's 
heart, so that when he is happy, you are happy, and you grieve with him when he is grieving." See 
article by J.B. Schneyer containing texts of some of Albert's sermons, in Recherches de Theologie 
ancienne et medievale, 36 (1969), 121; cited in Albert and Thomas, 36. 
Simone Weil, Waiting on God, 105-07. 

See Guy Bedouelle, O.P., Saint Dominic: The Grace of the Word, trans. M.T. Noble, O.P. (San 
Francisco 1987), 164. For further information on the place of books in the lives of the early 
Dominicans, see Jose Diaz Camacho, O.P., "Los dominicos, los libros y las bibliotecas," in Pasion 
por la verdad: el studio en el carisma dominicano (Bucaramanga 2000), 269-75; William A. 
Hinnebusch, O.P., "Books and Libraries in the Dominican Order," in The History of the Dominican 
Order, Vol. II, Intellectual and Cultural Life to 1500 (New York 1973), 191-230; Simon Tugwell, 
"Dominican Spirituality," in Compendium of Spirituality, Vol. II, ed. E. De Cea, O.P. (New York 
1996), 141-44. 

Humbert of Romans, "De libris divinis procurandis," CXL, in Opera de vita regulari, Vol. I, ed. J.J. 
Berthier (Roma 1888), 419-23. 

See Contra impugnantes, XI, 2, A132. St Thomas remarked on one occasion that he would rather 
possess a copy of Chrysostom on Matthew than own the whole of Paris. See Tocco, XLII, 115. 
Treatise on the Formation of Preachers, IX, 107, 217. When speaking of creation as a book, 
Humbert is echoing here the teaching of St. Anthony of the Desert. See PL 73:10180 
Tractatus de approbatione ordinis, ed. T. Kappeli, in Archivum fratrum praedicatorum, 6 (1936), 
148-50; cited in The Way of the Preacher, 114. It is worth noting that, on page 150, when the 
"book" is mentioned, the anonymous Dominican author takes time to speak also of the scroll or 
book of the prophet Ezekiel. 

Once, when crossing the Ariege river, Dominic lost his books but later they were, it seems, 
miraculously recovered. See "De beato Dominico," IV, in Vitae Fratrum, 2, 69-70. 
"De beato Dominico," XXV, in Vitae Fratrum, 2, 82. 

Letter CCCXVI, in Le Lettere di S. Caterina da Siena, Vol.V, ed. N. Tommaseo (Florence 1940), 


Ibid., 39. 

Ibid. Italics mine. 









126 Letter XV, in Beati lordani de Saxonia Epistolae, MOPH, XXIII, ed. A. Walz, OP. (Roma 1951), 17; 
trans. S. Tugwell, Early Dominicans, 405. 

127 In Ezekiel 2:10, the words on the scroll are "lamentations, waitings and woe." But in the Latin 
(Vulgate) translation which was available to Jordan of Saxony, the second word was not 
translated as "wailings" but as "song" (carmen): "lamentationes, et carmen, et vae." This reading 
or misreading in the Vulgate enabled Jordan to introduce into his letter the theme of Christ's "song 
of gladness." 


Letter XV, 17; trans. Tugwell, Early Dominicans, 405. 

In the early iconography of the saint, Dominic is shown 

most often holding a book in his hands. 

And this detail is by no means accidental. 

For the book, especially the book of the Gospels, 

was central to Dominic, both in his life of study 

and in his life of prayer. 

In the thirteenth century text, 

The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic, 

we are informed that the preacher, 

"sober and alert and anointed with a spirit of devotion... 

would sit down to read or pray, recollecting himself in himself 

and fixing himself in the presence of God. " 

Further, with a book open before him, 

"When he was reading like this on his own, 

he used to venerate the book 

and bow to it and sometimes kiss it, 

particularly if it was a book of the Gospels 

or if he was reading the words which Christ had spoken 

with his own lips." 

These statements about Dominic with regard to prayer and 
study recall that short, vivid imperative, "Eat the book." 



Paul Murray, O.P. 
Province of Ireland 

To begin to understand a particular tradition or spirituality, it is enough sometimes to 
take hold of a single word common to that tradition - a word such as "truth," for example, or 
"democracy" or "contemplation" or "preaching" - and hold on to that word as you would hold 
on to a piece of string to see how far it leads. The word I want to suggest that we examine in 
this paper is not perhaps an obvious choice. But it is a word which can, I am convinced, take 
us no small distance in our understanding of Dominican life and Dominican spirituality. It is 
the word "happiness." 

The statement is encouraging certainly, but its validity stands or falls by the small 
word "real." For how many of us, in practice, attain to the happiness of which Pascal 
speaks? The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche - no friend to the Christian gospel but 
well aware, all the same, of its most important claims - remarked once on the impact of 
Christ on human history: "His disciples," he said, "should look more redeemed"! 1 

Involvement in religion or in the pursuit of a spiritual life is such a serious matter, 
believers in all religions have a tendency to become very grim, solemn people. And 
Christianity is no exception. Laughter and happiness can come to be regarded as somehow 
frivolous and even as subversive of an authentic moral and spiritual way of life. "Sometimes 
people, even Catholics," Vincent McNabb writes, "are frightened away from the spiritual life. 
They think it aims at making us miserable." 2 But McNabb himself, when as a young man he 
entered the Dominican Order, began immediately to breathe in an atmosphere that was 
altogether different. "I was immensely surprised and delighted," he tells us, "to find that 
sadness was never considered one of the products of the religious life. ..if you hadn't joy, out 
you went!" 3 

My intention in this article is, first, to examine the theme of happiness as it emerged 
in some of the very early stories concerning the Friars Preachers; second, the theme as it 
was developed in a number of Dominican mystical texts; and finally, the theme as it was 
taken up and reflected upon in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. 

A Vision of Gospel Joy 

Laughter in "The Lives of the Brethren" 

Of all the early friars, perhaps the most spontaneously good-humoured and 
exuberant was Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Dominic's first successor as Master. Almost an 
entire section of the Vitae Fratrum is devoted to a number of his witty replies. 4 Everyone, 
we're told, longed to hear him. And he attracted an enormous number of vocations to the 
Order. Once, in 1229, when he was on his way to Genoa, bringing with him a batch of new 
Dominicans, one of the group, during night prayer or Compline, started laughing, and then 
all the rest joined in "right merrily." 5 A senior brother reprimanded them at once, and by 
using signs, ordered them to stop. But this "only set them off laughing more than ever." As 
soon as Compline was over, Jordan turned to the friar in question and said: "Brother, who 
made you their master? What right have you to take them to task?" Then, addressing the 
other brothers, Jordan said: "Laugh to your hearts' content. ..and don't stop on that man's 


account. You have my full leave, and it is only right that you should laugh after breaking from 
the devil's thraldom. ..Laugh on, then, and be as merry as you please." 6 

This little episode from the Vitae Fratrum might seem naive and inconsequential. But 
it serves to underline something really fundamental about the early Dominicans and their 
fresh grasp of the Gospel. Throughout the preaching ministry of Dominic, a vision of Gospel 
joy had come to define itself over against some very grim and very gloomy notions indeed. 
So Jordan of Saxony's instinctive refusal to silence the brothers' laughter, was probably, I 
would say, no accident. 

That the early Dominicans should go to the trouble of preserving a story of this kind 
is really quite remarkable, in view especially of the prevailing medieval attitude to laughter. 
St. Benedict, in his rule, had explicitly forbidden "talk leading to laughter." "Only a fool," he 
observed, quoting Ecclesiasticus 21:2, "raises his voice in laughter." 7 What St Benedict is 
attacking here is, presumably, that boisterous laughter which prevents the monk from really 
listening. For there is a kind of hilarity which is little more than a way of avoiding one's own 
guilt or fear by mocking the weaknesses and disabilities of others. Nevertheless, the fact 
remains that laughter can also build up, encourage and set free. For those who are "pure of 
heart," as Josef Pieper reminds us, "can laugh in a freedom that creates freedom in others." 8 

Happily, then, we don't have to agree with the rather grim conclusion expressed in an 
article I read a short time ago, entitled, "Get Serious! The Monastic Condemnation of 
Laughter." In this article, the author writes: "At the best of times, laughter is a movement 
toward the surface, toward the shallows. It is always escapist. It is always a distraction 
because it is always a movement away from the quiet centre of one's being." 9 Now that 
statement, in spite of possessing the dubious merit of sounding very "spiritual," is not, I 
would suggest, very wise. The deep, almost uncontrollable laughter which springs from 
gospel joy, far from being something that is unspiritual or shallow or escapist is, in fact, 
simply an ecstasy of the inner heart, a saving "movement" away from the preciosity of cold 
self-love, an impulse of surrender and delight towards the neighbour and towards God. 

The Joy of Dominic 

St. Dominic himself was called yir evanqelicus . 10 The one passion of his life was to 
preach a truth he could not keep to himself. And he preached it by word and by example. 
But also - to a remarkable degree - he preached it by joy. "[H]is face was always radiant," 
we're told, and "By his cheerfulness he easily won the love of everybody. Without difficulty 
he found his way into peoples' hearts as soon as they saw him." 11 Cecilia tells us that "A 
kind of radiance shone from his forehead and between his eyebrows, which drew everyone 
to venerate and love him. He always appeared cheerful and happy." 12 

On one occasion, noticing that one of his own companions, a certain Brother 
Bertrand, was weeping too much over his sins, and "tormenting himself excessively," 13 
Dominic decided to intervene. He commanded Bertrand "not to weep for his own sins, but 
for those of others." And "his words had such a powerful effect," we're told, "that thereafter 
Bertrand wept profusely for others, but was unable to weep for himself even when he 
wanted to"! 14 

In another early text concerning Dominic, a great burst of laughter is recorded. What 
provoked the laughter was an unusual miracle he worked in the Church of St Sixtus. 
According to the ancient account, Dominic, with unrestrained enthusiasm, unmasked the Evil 


One who had come flying into the Church disguised as a bird in order to prevent him 
preaching. All the Dominicans who were present, both the brethren and the sisters, at once 
burst out laughing ("subridentibus fratribus et sororibus"). 15 Although many saints, over the 
centuries, have worked miracles which have moved crowds of people to wonder and 
amazement, in all of Christian hagiography I have never heard of a miracle which provoked 
immediate and joyous laughter among those present. Blessed Cecilia, in her Legenda, 
refers to it as "iocundum miraculum," a laughter-stirring miracle. 16 

Something of the same surprise of joy pervades The Dialogue of St. Catherine of 
Siena. At one point, Catherine is informed by God the Father that the Dominican Order is "in 
itself.. .wholly delightful." 17 Dominic, he tells her, built his "ship" both "very spacious" and 
also "very happy." What is more, the Order, he declares, is not tied "to the guilt of deadly 
sin." So "both the perfect and the not-so-perfect fare well on this ship!" 18 

A no less enthusiastic statement concerning the Order founded by Dominic, occurs in 
a letter composed by Jordan of Saxony. Just over fifty of Jordan's letters have survived, and 
the word "joy" occurs on almost every page. Most of these letters were sent by Jordan to his 
beloved Dominican friend, the enclosed contemplative Diana d'Andalo. In one letter, 
addressed not to Diana only but to her entire community at Bologna, Jordan quotes a phrase 
from Matthew's Gospel about joy: "Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Mt 25:21). The meaning 
of the phrase is clear enough. But Jordan, in a moment of sheer Dominican bravado and 
enthusiasm, decides - for the space of a paragraph - to change or to extend its meaning. For 
him "the joy of the Lord" has somehow become one thing with the happiness of belonging to 
the Order of Preachers. And so he says, "Enter into the joy of your Lord," meaning by "Lord" 
that form of the grace of the Lord which is the Order itself. Enter into it, Jordan says, into that 
life of obedient communion, and "all your sorrow shall be turned into joy, and your joy no one 
can take from you!" 19 

A certain exuberant joy is also clearly evident in a story from the Vitae Fratrum which 
concerns a certain Peter of Aubenas. Peter had originally intended joining the Friars 
Preachers. But, when he made the acquaintance of a notably austere group of men called 
the Waldensians, he was at once confused about what to do. As the text puts it, Peter "saw 
in them [the Waldensians] more outward signs of humility and of the virtues of piety, while he 
considered the friars too cheerful and showy" ("iocundos et...pomposos"). 20 In an anguish of 
indecision, Peter begged God "to reveal to him, in his mercy, what he ought to do in this 

Well - he got his answer, but in a dream. The text says: "he imagined that he was 
walking along a road with a dark wood on the left side of it, in which he saw the Waldensians 
all going their separate ways, with sad, solemn faces." But, on the other side of the road, 
after walking for some time beside a very beautiful high wall, he "at last came to a gate." 
When he looked in through the gate, he saw, in contrast to the dark, solemn wood, "an 
exquisite meadow, planted with trees and colourful with flowers." In the meadow, "he saw a 
crowd of Friars Preachers in a ring, with joyful faces raised towards heaven." And he saw 
that "one of them was holding the Body of Christ in his upraised hands." Peter was 
overwhelmed. The text says that, when he woke up, he "found himself bathed in tears. ..his 
heart joyful." The path was now clear in front of him. Within a few days, he had joined the 
Dominican Order, and we read that "he ran his course in the Order happily to its end." 21 
Even allowing for a certain Dominican chauvinism in the telling of this story, one thing can be 
said at once about the early Friars Preachers: they certainly looked "redeemed." No 
objections on that score, I should imagine - even from Friedrich Nietzsche! But it is 


significant, all the same, that Peter was so deeply troubled at first by the friars' manifest joy. 
Holiness of life had somehow come to be associated with bowed heads and sad faces. And 
these God-shaken, active Dominicans looked far "too cheerful!" 

Living the Beatitudes 

Radiance, happiness, cheerfulness, joy. Fine words, all of them, and fine qualities. 
But how relevant to our situation today are these examples of medieval cheerfulness? In the 
present age we are living through a period of history when, aided by the media, we have 
become perhaps more aware than at any other time in history, of the great distress of people 
in every part of the world. "What kind of times are these," exclaims the German poet, Bertold 
Brecht, "when to talk about trees / Is almost a crime because it implies silence / About so 
many horrors?" (Cf. "To Those Born Later.") The question is rhetorical, but it demands, if not 
immediate answers, then at least some sort of honest and serious reflection. With reference 
to Dominic's joy, what is important, first of all, to note is that, in the preacher's spirit, there 
was never anything of cold indifference to the needs of others. "He always appeared 
cheerful and happy," we read in the Miracula of Cecilia, except "when he was moved by 
compassion for any trouble which was affecting his neighbour." 22 

When, for the first time, we come upon some of these stories about the early 
brethren, and their joy, we might be inclined to think that they were happy simply because 
they were "having a good time." Now I have no doubt that they did, on occasion, enjoy 
themselves enormously. They certainly seem to have enjoyed preaching. 23 When one of the 
early friars, famous for preaching, Reginald of Orleans, was asked once: "Do you ever feel 
depressed, Master, that you have put on our habit?", he replied: "I very much doubt if there 
is any merit in it for me, because I have always found so much pleasure in the Order!" 24 So 
the Friars Preachers were manifestly happy people. But the springs of their joy came from a 
source much deeper, I suspect, than that of any ordinary delight or simple pleasure. 

Even a brief familiarity with early Dominican sources makes it clear that life in the 
Order was far from easy in those first years. Thomas of Cantimpre, for example, 
commenting on the difficulty of the Friars Preachers' life, writes: "I could not sustain such 
discomfort for even a single day." And he adds: "The friars are tormented by work, distracted 
by all kinds of different business, and yet they survive unbroken." 25 In similar vein, Jordan of 
Saxony writes to Diana: "Here on earth we are wounded every day and our hearts are torn 
to shreds; and every day our miseries cause us to cry out, Who shall deliver us from the 
body of this death?" But Jordan goes on at once to say: "these things we must bear with 
patience and, so far as our daily work allows, dwell in mind and heart with him who alone 
can deliver us from our distresses... Meanwhile then let us accept with joy whatever sad 
things may come to us." 26 Not just acceptance is mentioned here by Jordan, but acceptance 
"with joy." Jordan was obviously someone who had deeply absorbed the wisdom of the 
Beatitudes. Writing to Diana, on one occasion, he speaks of "that poverty of spirit which 
gives you the kingdom of heaven." And he adds: "I do not say which will give you the 
kingdom: it gives it to you here and now; your Bridegroom himself tells us, Happy are the 
poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 27 

Jordan of Saxony was not the first Dominican to learn the secret of happiness from 
the wisdom he found contained in the Beatitudes. Significantly, in a prayer attributed to 
Dominic himself, in the Nine Ways of Prayer [of St. Dominic], there is a statement on the 
subject, which is unusually striking. In this prayer, Dominic, without the least hesitation, asks 
God for "delight and enjoyment" both for himself and for his brethren. 28 But what Dominic 


aspires to in this prayer, is not some kind of wilful heartiness, but rather, as he explains, 
"delight and enjoyment in putting the Beatitudes into practice" - an evangelical joy, in other 
words, a happiness so deeply grounded in supernatural faith and hope that even "in the 
most profound poverty, in bitter grief, in severe persecution, in great hunger and thirst for 
righteousness, in all the cares and worries of mercy," even in these circumstances, each 
individual brother would, in St. Dominic's words, "consider himself blessed." 29 One of the 
saint's early companions, Brother Buonviso, tells us that even when he was "badly treated", 
Dominic did not become angry or depressed but "showed all the signs of being particularly 
pleased!" 30 

Among the many different examples recorded in the Vitae Fratrum of the brethrens' 
"delight and enjoyment in putting the Beatitudes into practice," by far the most vivid to my 
mind and, in a sense, the most outrageous, involves yet again that exuberant man of joy, 
Blessed Jordan of Saxony. Here is the story taken direct from the Vitae: 

In company with a batch of our brethren, one morning the blessed father sent them 
all out into the town to beg bread for their breakfast, bidding them to join him at a 
neighbouring fountain. When they met again they found they had scarcely enough for half 
their number. Then the Master, breaking forth into joyful strains of the praises of God, 
exhorted the others by word and by example to do the same, and presently they were all 
filled with such spiritual gladness and holy joy that a woman standing by took scandal at the 
sight, and rebuked them: "Are you not all religious men? Whence comes it that you are 
merry-making at this early hour?" But when she learnt the real cause of their mirth, and saw 
them rejoicing over their want of food, she was deeply touched, and hurrying home brought 
them bread and wine and cheese, saying: "If you were merry and gave thanks to God for 
such a miserable pittance, I want you now to have greater cause for rejoicing." After this she 
withdrew feeling highly edified, and begged for a remembrance in their prayers. 31 

Expansive Joy: The Rhineland Mystics 
"Into the Open" Eckhart and Suso 

"Happy are those who suffer for righteousness' sake." This phrase from the 
Beatitudes is quoted by Meister Eckhart in a passage in which he faces head on the 
seeming contradiction in Christ's words about persecution and happiness. 32 For how can 
happiness be concomitant with human misery and suffering? Eckhart explains that Jesus' 
command to take up our cross is "not merely a commandment, as it is commonly said and 
thought: it is a promise and a divine prescription for a man to make all his suffering, all his 
deeds, and all his life happy and joyful. It is more a reward than a commandment." 
According to Eckhart, "whoever has abandoned self and completely gone forth from self, for 
him nothing could be a cross or pain or suffering: it would all be a joy." 33 

But why pain and suffering in the first place? Why are they necessary? Why the 
"narrow path"? There is, as we know well, no simple answer to this question. But Eckhart is 
concerned to make at least one thing clear. "It is not due to God's justice or his severity that 
he demands so much of us, rather it comes from his great bounty, for he wants the soul to 
be capacious so as to hold the largesse he is ready to bestow." 34 Eckhart admits that this 
teaching about the narrow path "sounds hard and a great matter... But when one has got 
into it, no life is easier, more delightful or lovelier." 35 And he says further: "God is always 
ready, but we are unready. God is near us, but we are far from him. God is in, we are out. 


God is at home, we are abroad. The prophet says: 'God leads the just through narrow paths 
to the highway, that they may come out into the open'." 36 

"Into the open" is a wonderful phrase and an accurate one. It recalls that aspect of 
spiritual life or experience which Dominican contemplatives sometimes call "expansion." St. 
Thomas, in his commentary on psalm thirty four, speaks of a joy which is nothing less than 
"an expansion of the heart" ("latitudinem cordis"), a joy so full "it breaks forth externally from 
within." 37 Margaret Ebner, the Dominican contemplative, describes for us how, on certain 
occasions, when she received Christ in the Eucharist: "my heart was so full that I could not 
comprehend it. I thought it was as wide as the whole world." 38 Blessed Henry Suso, in his 
book The Life of the Servant, recounts a similar kind of experience. Once, when praying the 
Sursum corda before the Canon of the Mass, he found himself being lifted up in meditation 
into God. But, at that same moment, his heart expanded to include every living thing on 
earth and in heaven. "Through me," he says, "all creatures were also raised up." 39 And he 
says further: 

I contemplated in my inner eye myself, and with all that I am, body and soul, 
and all my powers, and placed around myself all the creatures that God ever 
created in heaven, on earth and in the four elements, each with its own 
particular name, whether it be bird of the air, beast of the forest, fish in the 
water, leaf and grass of the earth, the countless grains of sand on the sea 
shore, and moreover, all the tiny drops of water which have ever fallen or still 
fall as dew, or snow, or rain. I wished that each of them might resound in a 
sweet instrument, tuned to the innermost melody of my heart and that they 
may thus be played as a new joyous hymn of praise to my beloved gentle 
Lord from eternity to eternity. Then the loving arms of the soul stretched out 
and extended themselves rejoicingly towards the countless numbers of all 
these creatures. It was [my soul's] endeavour to fill them all with zeal, just as 
a fresh joyous precentor urges the choir to sing joyfully with him and to raise 
up their hearts to God, singing "Lift up your hearts." 40 

After this first meditation Suso opened his mind and heart in prayer to all his fellow 
human beings on earth, both saints and sinners: 

I contemplate my heart and the hearts of all men and women, considering 
what pleasure and joy, love and peace those taste who give their hearts to 
God alone, and on the other hand, what injury and suffering, pain and unrest 
transitory love inflicts on its slaves. Then I called out with great desire to my 
heart and all other hearts wherever they may be, to all the ends of the earth: 
"Come, imprisoned hearts, come away from the narrow bonds of transient 
love!. ..Raise yourselves up to freedom and return to the loving God. Lift up 
your hearts!" 41 

"God makes merry." A Dominican Theology 

The gift of expansive joy which Suso describes here so powerfully is nothing less 
than a participation in the joy of God. But it is not Suso, but Eckhart - Suso's spiritual master 
- who more than any other Dominican I can think of, delights in ringing the changes on the 
mystery of God's joy. Here he is in characteristic form: "Now I shall say what I never said 
before. God enjoys himself. His own enjoyment is such that it includes his enjoyment of all 
creatures." 42 And again, from another homily: "God is so joyful. ..he completely pours out his 


nature.. .In the same way, if one were to let a horse run about in a green meadow.. .it would 
be the horse's nature to pour forth its whole strength in leaping about in the meadow.. .In the 
same way, it is a joy to God and a satisfaction to him.. .to pour out his nature and his being 
completely." 43 The image is a remarkable one, both daring and illuminating. And no less 
daring is Eckhart's intuition of what he calls "laughter" at the very heart of the Trinity: "the 
Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, 
and the pleasure brings forth joy, and the joy brings forth love." 44 

One of the most delightful and moving of all Eckhart's images occurs in a short 
treatise he wrote concerned with progress in the spiritual life. In the first stage, Eckhart tells 
us, the inner or the new man is like a small child: "he still staggers from chair to chair and 
leans against the walls and still feeds himself on milk." 45 But, in the second stage, the inner 
man begins to grow up: "he turns his back on humanity and his face to God, creeps out of 
his mother's lap and laughs up at his heavenly Father!" 46 According to Eckhart "the higher 
each saint is the greater his joy." And the same holds true for the angels. "Yet all their joy 
combined is as small as a lentil compared with the joy that God has at that act. For God 
makes merry and laughs [at the sight of] good deeds!" 47 

These radiant lines from Eckhart recall to mind a short, remarkable sentence 
concerning laughter which the medieval contemplative, Mechtild of Magdeburg, heard the 
Lord addressing to her on one occasion. Mechtild admits that, up to a certain stage in her 
life, she had considered laughing not only frivolous but "wrong." 48 What changed Mechtild's 
mind on the subject was a vision she received once on the feast of St. Dominic. The Lord 
explained to her, first of all, that Dominic was a great example of moderation, that he never 
troubled his fellow Dominicans "with things arising from some whim of his own," and that, in 
fact, "he often improved the food to help and show affection for his brethren, so that the 
young brothers might not think back on the world and so that the older ones might not 
succumb on the way." 49 But then, addressing directly the subject of laughter, the Lord 
added, and the sentence is memorable, "Whenever Dominic laughed, he did so with the true 
delight of the Holy Spirit." 50 

These statements are certainly remarkable. But, as we listen to the voices of 
Mechtild and Eckhart, it might well be that we begin to hear, within us, another voice, a 
sceptical voice, which says: "Yes - that's fine for the saints and the angels, but it's too high a 
conversation for me." But Eckhart, true master that he is, and true Dominican, will not for an 
instant let us slip away with that little thought. "This joy," he insists, "is near you, it is in you! 
There is no one among you whose spirit is so base, whose mind is so weak, no one so far 
away from God, as not to be able to find this joy within himself.. .and find it before leaving this 
Church, and even in this instant to perceive it while I am still preaching! He can find it, live it 
and have it within himself as truly as God is God and I am a man." 51 

The Joy of Aquinas 

"O happy teacher" is a phrase which recurs over and over again in Bernard Gui's life 
of St. Thomas. "O happy teacher, who lived according to the doctrine you taught, reckoning 
earthly things as nothing compared with the foretasted joy of heaven!" 52 This wisdom and 
this joy Thomas shared almost compulsively with others. We read, in Gui's biography, that 
"his goodness to others had a sort of spontaneous alacrity which, in a way, paralleled the 
divine outpouring of his doctrine." 53 

Many of the texts in Gui, concerning Thomas, remind one of St. Dominic. Once, for 


example, when Thomas was preaching during Holy Week in Rome, he succeeded, we are 
told, in "moving his hearers to tears; and the next day, preaching on the Resurrection, he 
roused them wonderfully to joy in the Lord." 54 We tend not to think of Thomas as a preacher, 
so the text is worth noting. Thomas was, of course, by temperament and vocation, far more 
retiring than Dominic. What gave him the greatest joy in life was, without question, 
contemplative study or the pursuit of wisdom, an occupation or a task which, he tells us 
himself, is "by common consent the most delightful of all virtuous activities." 55 Thomas says 
further that "those who devote themselves to the contemplation of truth are the happiest 
anyone can be in this life." 56 

No wonder, then, that William of Tocco, the saint's first biographer, says that Thomas 
inspired joy in all those who saw him. 57 And Bartholomew, another early source, declares 
that everyone believed that God was with him "for he always had a joyous countenance, 
sweet and affable." 58 These two reports may well be reliable. And yet we know that 
Thomas, from a young age, possessed a rather taciturn temperament. So can we trust the 
reports, or do they represent simply the bland commonplaces of medieval hagiography? I 
am inclined to the view that they are reliable, and my judgement is based, in part, on the 
attitude Thomas expresses, in his writings, towards such things as charity, playfulness, 
friendship and good humour. 

Happiness and Good Humour 

In the Summa Thomas defends what he calls "affability" and "cheerfulness" - quite 
openly disagreeing with the view that austerity must always exclude "cheerfulness" or must 
forbid "the giving and receiving of the pleasures of conversation." 59 What is more, Thomas 
takes to task those people who are so serious about themselves they never say anything 
ridiculous ("nee ipsi dicunt aliquid ridiculum"), but instead are always trying to obstruct the 
fun or the amusement of others. 60 Such people are not only "rough" and "boorish," in 
Thomas's opinion, they are also morally unsound. "Bear yourself with wit," he advises - 
echoing Seneca - "lest you be regarded as sour or despised as dull." 61 

Of course St. Thomas is well aware that even laughter and playfulness can, on 
occasion, be excessive and inappropriate. He would probably agree, for example, with 
Goethe's telling statement on the subject: "Every century tries to make the sacred vulgar, the 
difficult easy, the serious hilarious - which really would not be objectionable at all if only 
earnestness and fun were not both destroyed in the process." 62 In spite of this danger, 
however, St. Thomas, in the Summa, is prepared openly to defend the playfulness and wit of 
professional actors and comedians, remarking, for example, how "it was revealed to the 
Blessed Paphnutius that a certain jester ("ioculator") would be with him in the life to come!" 63 

"Play," in St. Thomas's opinion, "is necessary for the intercourse of human life." 64 He 
even states, at one point, that an unrelenting seriousness indicates a lack of virtue since "it 
wholly despises play, which is as necessary for human life as rest is." 65 Nimbleness of wit, 
therefore, or playfulness, can lay claim to be an authentic virtue. Aristotle calls it "eutrapelia." 
And the person who possesses it, in Thomas's own words "has a happy turn of mind, 
whereby he gives his words and deeds a cheerful turn." 66 In this spirit, Thomas - directly 
inspired by Cicero - offers the following practical advice to public speakers: "When the 
audience is weary, it will not be unhelpful to try something novel or amusing provided that 
the dignity of the subject does not rule out joking." 67 

With that suggestion in mind, I want to interrupt our reflections at this point, not 


indeed to offer something "amusing," but rather to share what I hope might be a piece of 
"novel" information. Although many people are familiar with the poetry of Gerard Manley 
Hopkins, very few are aware, I suspect, that one of his poems was dedicated to an Irish 
Dominican, the famous preacher Fr. Thomas Burke. The poem, which was composed in 
Latin, has Burke as its central subject, but it includes also an interesting reflection on 

These two men, Hopkins and Burke, the Jesuit and the Dominican, the poet and the 
preacher, met once only, in April 1877, when Burke visited the Jesuit house at St. Bueno's in 
Wales. In his poem, Hopkins speaks of Burke as someone completely taken up with the 
tasks of preaching, study and spiritual direction. But then, by way of qualification, Hopkins 
says of Burke, "the whole man is not engrossed in these matters, or, if you like, he is 
completely engrossed in them, but in such a way that he can be light-hearted amid serious 
affairs, for he mingles jests with his sacred duties, so that neither his voice nor his facial 
expression remains always the same." 68 He mingles jests with his sacred duties: intermiscet 
enim cum sacris ludicra curis. Not only does this phrase and indeed the entire passage 
characterise Tom Burke the Irishman, it also captures very well a certain lightness of touch 
in the Dominican style and spirit, an exuberance or a playfulness wholly approved of, it 
would seem, by the other Thomas. 

But what evidence do we have, in fact, that Aquinas himself "mingled jests with his 
sacred duties?" Is there evidence anywhere in his life of "a happy turn of mind?" Remigio, 
one of Thomas's students in Paris, reports that Thomas made a humorous allusion in class 
once to the extravagant liturgical celebrations which had been held for the feast of St. Martin 
in contrast to more modest celebrations for the feast of St. Peter. 69 The local people 
("rustici") had, it seems, attributed to Martin's intercession the amazingly abundant harvest 
of that year. But St. Peter's contribution to the harvest was not noted. So, it would seem that, 
by the common consent of the faithful, St. Peter's feast that year was, by comparison with 
St. Martin's, somewhat down-graded! 

Apart from this one story, have we any other evidence of Aquinas's sense of 
humour? The Dominican, Fr. Torrell, in his superb two-volumed work on Aquinas, states that 
although "we have no indication of the frequency of such sallies, what we know from other 
sources about the vivacity of Thomas' reactions, inclines us to think that they were not 
rare." 70 I agree with this suggestion. But I am inclined to think, nevertheless, that far more 
important than the existence of actual "jokes" told by Aquinas," humour, as Ludwig 
Wittgenstein once shrewdly observed, "is not a mood but a way of looking at the world." 71 
That being said, however, I hope it will not seem forced or wilful if I draw attention here to a 
passage from Aquinas which I have never seen quoted, but which I suspect would almost 
certainly have brought a smile to the lips of his students when they first read it. 

The passage occurs in Thomas's commentary on the fourth book of Aristotle's 
Ethics. Thomas is reflecting at one point on beauty, and in particular on that beauty which 
can be found "in a large body." Now we all know - and from a number of sources - that 
Brother Thomas was not slim. "Grossus et brutus" are two of the adjectives used to describe 
him. 72 And Remigio, his student in Paris, doesn't hesitate to speak of his famous master as a 
very fat man indeed - pinguissimus! 73 Thomas, in his commentary on the Ethics, is generous 
enough, echoing "the philosopher," to suggest that "those who are small might be called 
pretty ("formosi") because of an appropriateness of colour and a fitting proportion of limbs." 
However, he goes on at once to add, "they cannot be called beautiful because of a lack of 
magnitude." 74 


It is almost certain that Thomas never delivered this commentary on Aristotle in a 
public, university forum. But, according to V.J. Bourke, the commentary may have been 
shared in private by Thomas with some of his own brethren, "quite possibly as a lecture 
course for young students in the Roman Province of the Order of Preachers. If he did so, 
one can have no difficulty imagining the students' reaction, when, standing four-square in 
front of them, Master Thomas - with conscious or unconscious irony - placidly declared: 
"Pulcritudo proprie consistit in corpore magno." "Beauty is found in a large body"! 

Wisdom and the Beatitudes 

Within the Christian spiritual tradition, Thomas's reflections on good humour and 
playfulness have unfortunately received little attention. And the same is true, sad to say, 
concerning something far more important - Thomas's teaching in the Summa and elsewhere 
on happiness or "beatitude." Many scholars are inclined to highlight Thomas's debt to 
Aristotle, and of course his debt to the Greek is enormous. But the deepest sources of his 
fascination with and understanding of happiness, are not to be found buried away 
somewhere in Greek philosophy. They are to be found, first and last, in the manifest joy of 
Gospel truth, and in the witness to that joy and that truth given by Dominic and by the Friars 

The joy of Gospel truth - the full paradox of that joy - finds its most telling expression 
in the Beatitudes. And it is perhaps significant that in St. Matthew's Gospel - St. Dominic's 
favourite Gospel - the Beatitudes are deliberately placed at the beginning of the Sermon on 
the Mount. Together with the Sermon they not only sum up, according to Aquinas, "the 
whole process of forming the life of the Christian." 77 They constitute the text in the New 
Testament which most distinguishes the New Law from the Decalogue or the Old Law. 

Sadly, however, for four hundred years, Thomas's teaching on the New Law has 
been all but ignored by the great majority of moral theologians. With the rise of legalistic 
casuistry in the sixteenth century, a concept of morality was developed which focused 
almost exclusively on obligation. St. Thomas, staying closer to the spirit of the Gospel, 
indicates that, in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as having our attention drawn to "the 
various precepts of the law," we are also made aware that our lives in this world and in the 
next are ordered towards happiness. 78 In his book, The Pursuit of Happiness, the 
contemporary Dominican theologian, Servais Pinckaers, writes: 

Promises of happiness come first in God's Word and designs. ..As St. Paul 
understood so well, this ordering has enormous consequences for life and for 
the moral issues of revelation. Salvation, freedom, justice, and happiness 
come to us from our faith in the divine promises and our hope in mercy and 
grace, rather than from the merits we may acquire by our own strength in 
adhering to the observances of the law. 79 

St. Thomas, like St. Dominic before him, was deeply grounded in the teaching of St. 
Paul and in the Gospel of Matthew. He understood that the Beatitudes and the Sermon 
represent God's answer to our human search for happiness. "We can literally say that the 
Gospel teaches a morality of beatitude or blessedness," writes Servais Pinckaers. 
"Obligations are not ruled out - we need them - but they are secondary and instrumental." 80 
Morality, then, is placed not so much under the rubric of obligation by St. Thomas but rather 
under the rubric of happiness. In fact, it is worth noting that, in the entire Prima secundae of 
the Summa, where Thomas discusses morality, there is not one single article devoted 


exclusively to obligation! 81 So Thomas, like the great Augustine, refuses to have the 
question of happiness set aside. For both men, morality begins with happiness, and is a 
search for happiness. "There is no doubt about it," Augustine says, "we all want to be happy. 
Everyone will agree with me even before the words are out of my mouth.. .so let us see if we 
can find the best way to achieve it." 82 Unfortunately, very seldom if ever, in the manual 
theologies of later centuries, do we find such a frank and honest admission of our human 
thirst for happiness. And - inevitably - given that sad exclusion or that "repression," the result 
is that the human heart begins to look elsewhere for its fulfilment. 

In the latter part of the twentieth century, a great number of our contemporaries 
found themselves attracted to a philosophy of happiness whose most popular exponent was 
the American anthropologist Joseph Campbell. At the core of Campbell's philosophy there is 
one single imperative which, at first hearing, might seem to echo the teaching of St. Thomas 
Aquinas. But a closer reading or a more attentive listening, reveals a very different story. For 
with his famous catchword, "Follow your bliss," Campbell is inviting us to pursue happiness 
by focusing exclusively on the self. Little or no concern is shown for the feelings of others, 
and there is no manifest interest in anyone else's happiness. Thus, the people in one's life, 
one's friends, one's family, one's neighbours, are reduced to mere "functions" for one's own 
self-development, "instruments", according to Campbell, of one's own "destiny." 83 "Go 
where your body and soul want to go," he declares. "When you have the feeling, then stay 
with it, and don't let anyone throw you off." 84 Although I find myself deeply opposed to this 
doctrine of "me-ism," I cannot but respect the great preachers of the Gospel, who, to their 
contemporaries, appeared so completely radiant, and had discovered - in their own search 
for happiness - something unexpected about its attainment. And it must have struck them 
with the surprise and force of a Gospel paradox. For "the secret" they uncovered was, in a 
sense, not to pursue happiness at all, at least not for themselves alone, but instead to learn 
step by step to give their attention to God and to their neighbour. When they sought 
wherever possible to bring fullness of life and joy to others, happiness - and very great 
happiness indeed - came to them in abundance. 


Happiness - what Robert Louis Stevenson once described as the "great task of 
happiness" - has been the theme of this paper. Like a piece of string held on to, it has led us 
back to reflect on an aspect of our own tradition, at once wholly delightful yet also profoundly 
challenging: happiness, first, as manifested in the lives of some early Dominicans; then, as 
expressed in certain texts from the Dominican mystical tradition; and finally as present in the 
life and work of a theologian of genius, Thomas Aquinas. As we have gone along on this 
journey, we have found ourselves in the company always of Dominican men and women, 
but in different times and in different places: in a contemplative convent at Bologna, for 
example, with Diana d'Andalo, in a class room with St. Thomas Aquinas at Paris, in the 
streets and squares of Italy with Jordan of Saxony and his band of preachers, and in 
Germany at Mass with Blessed Henry Suso. But from each one of these Dominicans we 
have been learning about joy, and in particular about Gospel joy. For the string held on to 
has led us, in the end, to the top of the Mountain of the Beatitudes. And there, in company 
with Dominic and Jordan, with Catherine and Diana, with Mechtild and Henry and Thomas, 
we have found ourselves listening, as before, but with a new understanding perhaps, and 
with a deeper sense of poverty and wonder, to Christ's own words, his own remarkable 
teaching about human happiness. 


1. Cited in Paul Tillich, The Boundaries of our Being (London 1973), 256. 

2. McNabb, The Craft of Suffering (London 1936), 38 

3. Ibid., 38. 

4. Lives of the Brethren, trans. Placid Conway (London 1955), 121-29. 

5. Ibid. ,127. 

6. Ibid., 127. Striking in itself Jordan's defence of the brothers' laughter is all the more 
striking when one remembers that, in line with the general monastic tradition, such rowdy 
behaviour in choir and elsewhere was characterised in the Primitive Constitutions 

of the Friars Preachers as a fault, albeit as one of the minor faults (Dist. I, XXI). 

7. The Rule of St Benedict, ed. Timothy Fry, O.S.B. (Collegeville 1981) Chapter VII, 201. 

8. J. Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, trans. P.C. Duggan (San 
Francisco 1991), 44. 

9. Kenneth C. Russell, "Get Serious! The Monastic Condemnation of Laughter," Review for 
Religious, May-June 1993, 376. This one negative statement apart, Russell's paper makes 
interesting reading. 

10. Jordan of Saxony, Libellus De Principiis Ord. Praed. in M.F.P., Vol XVI, no. 104, 75. 

1 1 . Ibid., no. 103-4, 74. See Jordan of Saxony: The Beginning of the Friars Preachers, 
trans. Simon Tugwell O.P. (Dublin 1982), 26. 

12. Bl. Cecilia, Miracula, 15. See Dominic, ed., Vladimir Koudelka, trans. S. Tugwell (London 

13. Gerard de Frachet, Vitae Fratrum, 11,19. See Tugwell, Early Dominicans, 91. 

14. Ibid., 91. 

15. Bl. Cecilia, Miracula, 10. See A.F.P, Vol XXXVII, 1967, 37. 

16. Ibid., 38. See also "The Legend of St Dominic by Bl. Cecilia" in The Lives of the 
Brethren, 86. 

17. St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, n.158, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P. (New York 
1988), 339. 

18. Ibid., n. 158, 338-339. 

19. To Heaven with Diana: Letters of Jordan, trans. Gerald Vann, O.P. (London 1960), 80. 

20. See Early Dominicans, 138. 

21. Ibid. ,138. 

22. Miracula, 15. See Dominic, ed. Koudelka, 56. 

23. This fact is evident from a comment made by an anonymous Dominican writing in Paris in the 
thirteenth century: "Scripture", he says, "is difficult to understand, but preaching is easy and 
delightful"! See Expositio Super Apocalypsim; edited under the name of Thomas Aquinas in 
Opera Omnia, Opuscula Alia Dubia, Vol I (Parma 1868) 410. This text was written by one of 
a team working at St-Jacques between the years 1240 and 1244. 

24. Jordan of Saxony, Libellus: On the Beginning of the Order of Preachers, no. 64,16. 

25. "Defence of the Mendicants" in Early Dominicans, 133. 

26. To Heaven with Diana, 139. 

27. Ibid., 70. 

28. "The Nine Ways of Prayer" in Early Dominicans, 99. 

29. Ibid., 99-100. 

30. "The Testimony of Brother Buonviso," Canonization Process of St. Dominic, no. 22. See 
Early Dominicans, 72. 

31. The Lives of the Brethren, trans. Conway, 113. 

32. "The Book of Divine Comfort" in Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises, Vol III, ed., M.O'C. 
Walshe (Longmead 1987), 89. 


33. Ibid., 89. 

34. "Sermon Sixty-nine" in Meister Eckhart: German Sermons and Treatises, Vol II, ed. 
M.O'C. Walshe (London 1981), 169. 

35. Ibid., 169. 

36. Ibid., 169. 

37. Postilla Super Psalmos, 34, in Opera Omnia, XIV (Parma 1863), 276. 

38. The Revelations of Margaret Ebner, ed. Leonard P. Hindsley, O.P. (New York 1993), 89. 

39. The Life of the Servant, trans. James M. Clark (London 1952), 35. 

40. Ibid., 35-36. 

41. Ibid., 36. 

42. "Sermon Twenty-seven: Nolite timere eos" in Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, trans. 
Raymond B. Blakney (New York 1 941 ), 225. 

43. Meister Eckhart: An Introduction to his Works with an Anthology of His Sermons, trans. 
James M Clark (London 1957), 226. 

44. "Sermon 18: Scio hominem in Christo ante annos quatordecim" in F. Pfeiffer (ed.), "Meister 
Eckhart" Deutsche Mystiker des Mittelalters Bd.2 (Leipzig 1857; repr. Scientia Verlag: Aalen, 
1962). I am grateful to Oliver Davies for translating this fragment from Sermon 18 at my 

45. "The Book of Benedictus: Of the Nobleman" in Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, 
trans, by E. Colledge and B. McGinn (London 1981), 241. 

46. Ibid., 242. 

47. Meister Eckhart: German Sermons and Treatises, trans. Walshe, 305. 

48. The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Frank Tobin (New York 1998), 165. Mechtild 
(c.1207-c.1282) was for many years closely associated with Dominicans, but she ended her 
life as a Cistercian in the monastery of Helfta. 

49. Ibid., 65. On the other hand, there is the witness of Brother Rudolf, a contemporary of 
Dominic: "I once prepared an extra dish for the brethren, and [Dominic] came to me after 
lunch and said: "Why are you killing the brethren by giving them extra dishes?" See Early 
Dominicans, 76. 

50. Ibid. ,165. 

51 . "Sermon 66: Euge, serve bone et fidelis" in Maitre Eckhart: Traites et Sermons, trans. Alain 
de Libera (Paris 1993), 58. 

52. The Life of St. Thomas Aquinas: Biographical Documents, ed. Kenelm Foster, 
O. P. (London 1959),53. 

53. Ibid., 51. 

54. Ibid., 48. 

55. Sententia Libri Ethicorum, X, 10, 1 177a22, (Roma 1969), 584. 

56. Ibid., X, 11, 1177b31. 588. 

57. See Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Initiation a Saint Thomas dAquin (Paris 1993), 41 1 . 

58. Ibid., 410-411. 

59. Il.llq.168a.4, obj. 3 and ad 3. 

60. Il.llq.168a.4. 

61 . II. II q.1 68 a. 4. Thomas Gilby's translation. See vol 44, English Translation of the Summa 
Theologiae (Cambridge 1 972), 225 and 227. 

62. Cited by Josef Pieper in Uberdie Liebe. See Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco 
1984), 42. 

63. M.llq.168obj.3andad3. 

64. IUIq.168a.3ad3. 

65. Sententia Libri Ethicorum, IV, 16, 1128b2 (Roma 1969), 258. 

66. Il.ll q.168 a.2. 


67. Il.ll q. 168 a.2 ad 1. 

68. "To the Reverend Father, Brother Thomas Burke, O.P. on his visit to St. Bueno's College," 
trans. B.H.P. Farrer in The Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Norman 
MacKenzie (Oxford 1990), 370. 

69. See Torrell, Initiation a Saint Thomas, 41 1. 

70. Ibid., 411. 

71. Wittgenstein made this observation while staying at Rosro in Ireland. See Ray Monk, 
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (London 1991), 529. 

72. Nicolas de Piperno: Naples 19. See Torrell, Initiation, 407. 

73. Torrell, 407. 

74. Sententia Libri Ethicorum, IV, 8, 1 123b5 (Roma 1969), 226-227. 

75. See Bourke, "The Nicomachean Ethics and Thomas Aquinas" in St. Thomas Aquinas: 
Commemorative Studies (Toronto 1974), 250. See also 248. 

76. Sent. Libri Ethicorum, IV, 8, 1123b5. G.K. Chesterton, in his book St. Thomas Aquinas 
(London 1933), writes: "His bulk made it easy to regard him humorously. It may be that he, 
and not some irritated partisan was responsible for the sublime exaggeration that a crescent 
was cut out of the dinner-table to allow him to sit down!" (97). 

77. Ml q. 108 a. 3. 

78. Ibid., a.3. 

79. S. Pinckaers, The Pursuit of Happiness, trans. M.T. Noble, O.P. (New York 1998), 27. 

80. Ibid., viii. 

81. See Servais Pinckaers O.P., The Sources of Christian Ethics, trans. M. T. Noble, O.P. 
(Edinburgh 1995),17. 

82. St. Augustine, "De Moribus Eccclesiae Catholicae", I, iii, 4 in Opera Omnia, Vol I (Paris 
1877),1 31 2. Cited in Pinckaers, Sources, vii. 

83. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York 1988), 91 and 118. 

84. Ibid. ,120. 

Laughter is at the very heart 

of the Trinity.... 

"The Father iaughs at the Son 

and the Son at the Father, 

and the laughing brings forth pleasure, 

and the pleasure brings forth joy, 

and the joy brings forth love." 



Donald J. Goergen, O.P. 
Province of St. Albert the Great 

Let me begin by sharing with you a poem by a North American poet, Jane Kenyon, 
entitled "Reading Aloud to My Father." 

I chose the book haphazard 

from the shelf, but with Nabokov's first 

sentence I knew it wasn't the thing 

to read to a dying man: 

The cradle rocks above an abyss, it began, 

and common sense tells us that our existence 

is but a brief crack of light 

between the eternities of darkness. 

The words disturbed both of us immediately, 
and I stopped. With music it was the same - 
Chopin's Piano Concerto -- he asked me 
to turn it off. He ceased eating, and drank 
little, while the tumors briskly appropriated 
what was left of him. 

But to return to the cradle rocking, I think 

Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss. 

That's why babies howl at birth, 

and why the dying so often reach 

for something only they can apprehend. 

At the end they don't want their hands 
to be under the covers, and if you should put 
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture 
of solidarity, they'll pull the hand free; 
and you must honor that desire, 
and let them pull it free. 1 

The poem is provocative but neither Nabokov nor Jane is completely right. We live 
this span of our lives in space-time, and this time, here and now, is neither paradise nor a 
vale of tears. Our earthly sojourns are mixed blessings, tapestries of joy and sadness, 
promise and defeat, hope and grief, light and darkness. 

By way of contrast to the deep sadness in life that the poem by Jane Kenyon 
suggests, tradition hands us an image of St. Dominic as joyful. Both Cecilia, the first to 
make profession in Dominic's hands in the new monastery of San Sisto in 1221, and Jordan 
of Saxony describe Dominic as cheerful. 2 I would like to focus our attention, however, not on 
Dominic's cheerfulness but on his sadness. Let us consider Dominic in southern France 
prior to establishing an order of preachers. 


The Sadness of Dominic 

The eight years, 1208-1215, following the death of Bishop Diego and prior to the 
establishment of the order in the diocese of Toulouse, must have witnessed Dominic 
wrestling with sadness. Diego has died. Dominic has settled in Fanjeaux, a Cathar 
stronghold, an "inferno of heresy," 3 where Dominic and Diego had established in Prouille the 
community for converted Cathar women. On January 14, 1208, Pierre de Castlenau, one of 
the three papal legates whom Dominic and Diego had early encountered in Montpellier, was 
assassinated. Pierre was canonised the following March 10. That same day Pope Innocent 
III called for a crusade. The holy preaching would now be supplemented by a holy war and 
one of the most brutal religious wars in history. Vladimir Koudelka wrote that Dominic during 
this sad religious war did not lose heart. 4 Jordan of Saxony reported the same. 5 
Nevertheless his soul must have been troubled, his heart in anguish. During this terrible war, 
where was Dominic? It is noteworthy that Dominic never joined the crusade. 6 

Arnaud Amaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, the third of the papal legates that Dominic had 
previously encountered, had been appointed in March of 1208 the spiritual leader of the 
crusade. On July 22, the feast of Mary Magdalene, in 1209, the Te Deum having been sung, 
the massacre at Beziers took place, 15,000 slaughtered by the crusaders in three hours, 
women and children not spared, not even the Catholic population. 7 By mid-August of that 
same year, 1209, partly due to fear of another Beziers, Carcassonne surrendered to the 
crusaders after two weeks 8 and in that same month Simon de Montfort, from one of the 
aristocratic dynasties of northern France, was chosen to lead the crusade, a military genius, 
exceptionally devout Catholic, ruthless man, and now Viscount of Beziers and Carcassonne. 
He made his headquarters at Fanjeaux, in the vacant castle of a Cathar lord. 9 Simon later 
became a benefactor of Dominic who baptized Simon's daughter Petronilla in 1211 and 
blessed the marriage of his son Amaury three years later. 10 

During the succeeding years, 1209-1210-121 1, 11 Dominic wanders from town to 
town, unostentatiously, preaching, trusting in the power of truth, unsuccessful, holding 
debates, some lasting for days, making a handful of conversions, fostering peace. Was he 
disappointed? disillusioned? discouraged? With Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse, 
excommunicated (again) on February 6, 1211, the decree confirmed by the pope, Catholic 
services in the city were unable to be held due to interdict. Bishop Foulques left the city for 
four years, not to return until February 4, 1215, 12 the following April witnessed Dominic 
founding a diocesan order of preachers. Dominic didn't give up. War was ravaging the 
countryside, the pope had decided on a crusade, and Dominic continued his mission of 
preaching. In March of 1212 Arnaud Amaury had become Archbishop of Narbonne. Dominic 
had not joined the crusade. Nor had he acquiesced to being made a bishop. 13 Dominic's life 
itself had been threatened yet he remained committed to a mendicant, itinerant, evangelical 
life, in a countryside ravaged by war, hatred, and greed. The crusade collapsed, more or 
less, by 1224. Dominic was then dead. 

What sustained Dominic day in and day out, month after month, year after year, 
when there were few conversions, when his program for preaching proved inadequate to the 
task at hand, when the church itself concluded that war could better accomplish the task? 
Where was his mind, his heart, his soul, his human spirit? How did he remain a joyful friar? 
We tend to think of Dominic as a successful, joyful, prayerful man, and all of those he was. 
But we must also give due credit to the pain, the struggle, the sadness, particularly in those 
years 1208-1215, practically alone, not giving up, with little reason to be hopeful. He trusted 


in God, he spoke to God and about God, but none of this diminishes the fact that he must 
have had anguish of soul in the midst of a cloud of confusion, sadness, and unknowing with 
respect to his life and mission. 

The Cloud of Sadness 

Sadness was also part of Dominic's life - a sadness integrated and transformed but 
sadness nevertheless. Why are words like sadness, darkness, desolation, disappointment, 
disillusionment, emptiness, and unknowing so much a part of a contemplative's vocabulary? 
And why do we tend to fear those words and the experiences they represent? 

I fled Him down the nights and down the days; 

I fled Him, down the arches of the years; 
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways 

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears 
I hid from Him, and under running laughter. 14 

A contemplative life is not a life of leisure, although it is a balanced life, or perhaps better a 
grounded life, a life, to use Eckhart's words, in which one lives from within or out of the 
ground of one's soul. 15 To be a contemplative is to be grounded in God, to live within the 
"temple," the templum, the inner sanctuary of divine life, that of the indwelling Trinity. The 
Trinity itself, if we were to follow the reflections of Pope John Paul II, is not immune to its 
own pain and suffering. 

Therefore, will not 'convincing concerning sin' also have to mean revealing 
suffering? Revealing the pain, unimaginable and inexpressible, which on 
account of sin the Book of Genesis, in its anthropomorphic vision, seems to 
glimpse in the 'depths of God' and in a certain sense in the very heart of the 
ineffable Trinity? .... The concept of God as the necessarily most perfect 
being certainly excludes from God any pain deriving from deficiencies or 
wounds; but in the 'depths of God' there is a Father's love that, faced with 
man's sin, in the language of the Bible reacts so very deeply as to say: 'I am 
sorry that I have made him. '....But more often the Sacred Book speaks to us 
of a Father who feels compassion for man, as though sharing his pain. In a 
word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly 'pain' will bring about above 
all the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ.... 16 

This pain, this suffering - at the very heart of the Trinity itself - this contemplative 
pain, is for us also a purgative one. 

Just as Jesus was called into the wilderness, into an ordeal that the wilderness 
symbolized, an ordeal that "did not pass him by" (Mk 14:36), that was a cup he was still to 
drink at the end of his earthly journey as he had at the beginning of his earthly mission, just 
as this paschal mystery permeated his human life, and we might also add his divine life, the 
pain of being divine, so were his ancestors not spared the cup: Jeremiah, Jacob, Abel. 
God's call is never a call to a pain-free, frustration-free, restlessness-free life, but rather to a 
distinctive suffering that a servant embraces out of love. 17 

From among those words, those companions of each other - sadness, darkness, 
desolation, disappointment, disillusionment, emptiness, and unknowing - let us take the 
word 'disappointment.' Is there anyone here who has never been disappointed in life? 


Disappointed with a relationship, your community, the church itself, with yourself? It is not so 
much a question of whether we will be disappointed in life, even our monastic lives, but of 
how we handle, integrate, respond to disappointment and disillusionment. I am convinced 
that this is one of the most significant spiritual questions we all face. How do we reach out 
and embrace, indeed love, someone who hurts us or that which disappoints us? Certainly 
Catherine of Siena had to face this question with her family, with some of the ill in Siena 
whose needs she attended, with the church itself whose reform she so sorely sought. How 
could she continue to love? How could Jesus continue to love those who disappointed him, 
his people, his disciples? How could he avoid hatred and resentment building up in his 
heart? How could he say, "Father, forgive them"? 

Although none of us gets up in the morning and prays to God that we be 
disappointed today, disappointments are not evil. They simply reveal to us something about 
reality - something that we would perhaps rather not know but something real nevertheless. 
I like to say that none of us would be disillusioned if we did not have illusions of which we 
need to be dis-illusioned. Disappointment, disillusionment, desolation - these too are the 
stuff of contemplative living. Confronting them is perhaps the beginning of living 
contemplatively. Dominic had to confront them and they did not destroy him; they made him 
far greater than he might have been without them. Discouragement is not a good - it is the 
loss of courage in the face of life -- but disillusionment is an encounter with life and the truth 
of what is. A contemplative, certainly a Dominican contemplative, desires the courage to 
face the truth. We do not run from reality but into it, into the very heart of the One Alone Who 
is Really Real, into the heart and the pain of God. 

When we encounter disappointments .disillusionments, or an impasse along the way, 
which we all do, the end result will be one of two things. Either we become resentful, 
embittered, cynical, or we become contemplative. Perhaps that is overly simplifying it, but 
our choice in life is fundamentally whether to be cynics or contemplatives, whether the truth 
about life will destroy us or deepen us. Mark Sibley Jones, a Protestant minister, in reflecting 
on his own contemplative journey in Christ, sets out a path whereby we become distracted 
by Christ, even dazzled by Christ, and then become disciples of Christ. 18 But then comes 
the crunch, a turning point, the road less traveled let us say, when we are disillusioned. The 
life of contemplation lies beyond the disillusionment, this struggle, this ordeal, this paschal 
mystery, whereby we end up dwelling in Christ for whom we have all been destined. 
Disillusionment is really the bridge to deepened contemplation. The way there is a way of 
the cross. Jones writes, "Disillusionment is a turning point that leads from the most 
conventional of faith experiences to a solitary walk with God; a walk so solitary that it may 
feel like a walk without God." 19 Disillusionment is a transition to something deeper. We were 
all created to be contemplatives; our only other option is to be cynics. It is either the triumph 
of sin or of grace. For living contemplatively means being receptive to grace and in the end 
is a journey of faith. 

A Journey into Darkness 

A journey of faith, but also a journey into darkness. A contemplative seeks God 
above all else. The question is how to find God, whether we ever find God, who God 
ultimately is. Job thought he knew God but discovered how little about God he really knew. 
Even after his ordeal, did Job really know God? Is God knowable? And how? 

How does this darkness, this unknowingness, this pain of not knowing fit into our 
contemplative quest? It is really not so difficult to understand. We would all admit, I think, 


that God is not a thing, not a thing like anything we know. In other words, God is no thing, 
and thus the closer we get to the experience of no thing, that is of nothing, the closer we get 
to God. God feels an awful lot like nothing. The experience of nothingness may be as close 
as we get to an experience of God, or perhaps I should say to the unexperienceability of 

We all have our concepts, our images, our words for God. We all have in some way 
felt God in our experiences of prayer, solitude, peace, love, beauty, joy. But as we stop and 
reflect, we also have to admit that experiences, feelings, concepts and images, no matter 
how helpful they are along the way, and no matter how adequate or inadequate they may 
be, are not God. They are things, concepts, feelings, images, words. They are not God. 
Hence the need in the apophatic Christian tradition to put them behind us. Not that they 
mislead, indeed they may lead, but they are not God. They are only concepts or images of 
God. Thus it is that, only when I come to no thing at all, to nothing, that I am getting closer to 
an experience of who God truly is. At least we must count this experience as among our 
experiences of God and even give it some priority of place. Hence the painful experience of 
sheer nothing, nothing in prayer, my own nothingness and emptiness, my almost not being, 
these are profound spiritual experiences. Darkness reveals God as much as does light. 
True, God is light, but the true God is so bright that His light is also blinding. Not to be 
blinded by the light is to not know the true light, to have been deceived by a false light, or at 
least to have settled for something less than the fullness of light which can only be 
experienced by its darkness as well. 

Now this may be all well and good, or it may sound too esoteric. But we can still ask 
why contemplative living has to be this way. Must one experience death in order to know 
life? Darkness in order to know light? Emptiness in order to know fullness? Nothingness in 
order to know God? And the answer is "yes." 

Consolations must give way to desolation, lest we become attached to the 
consolations, which we think feel a lot like God but which we know are not God. Attached to 
the consolations, to the non-God, we would deceive ourselves, settle for less, were it not for 
those special graces of desolation, aridity, and non-feeling. In other words, God necessarily 
takes away what God gives at an earlier stage in our lives in order to guide us along the right 
path. Giving up, letting go, detachment from all that has come to be so meaningful to us is 
not an easy task. Yet it is a labor of love, God's love for us, for without these so-called 
negative experiences we would always settle for less than the real thing, settle for less than 
God. And God wants nothing other than to give us Himself, the real thing, or I should say the 
real non-thing. Nothingness can be an experience of closeness to God, an intimacy, a very 
special intimacy, once we accustom ourselves to it, because it is God's gift to us of God 
Himself. It just feels like nothing because it is so filled with nothing except God. 

The contemplative journey in the end is a journey of faith. Faith is as close as we get. 
Faith in the end is the only way. Not a faith that settles for ignorance, an unlearned faith, no, 
rather a faith that seeks understanding, which is the Dominican way. But still faith in the end 
concedes that it finds itself in the grips of what it thought it could grasp. Nothing makes us 
aware of this like darkness, nothingness, emptiness, unknowingness - the great mystical 
graces. Contemplative life is a life of faith, growing in faith, and that is what darkness, 
desolation, disillusionment do - they deepen our faith which is paradoxically the only way to 
find the One whom we seek. 

Contemplation in the end is faith. Faith is the beginning and the end of the journey. 


The word, "faith," takes on new or more meaning. Our faith may be an educated faith, a 
theologically attuned faith, but in the end an act of faith. There is no place higher or deeper 
to go than faith. It is not as if we begin with faith, then contemplate, and then come to some 
higher truth that we know apart from faith. Contemplative prayer simply leads us into an 
awareness of what faith truly is. I do not mean here the truths of faith, or the creed, or what 
we believe mean that we discover personally that we never get beyond faith. Faith is the 
human act and divine gift to which we keep coming back. To be sure this is a faith formed by 
love, as love of God and love of neighbor are integral to each other, but it is not as if there is 
some higher knowledge to which our experience leads us. Contemplative experience leads 
one more and more deeply into faith in the face of mystery, a trusting faith in a trustworthy 

Experiencing the Non-Experienceability of God 

Although my reflection may already be too embedded in a cloud of confusion, let me 
look at this from another angle. Let me do so by asking another question: how does one 
distinguish experientially between a "dark night of the senses" or "of the spirit" and 
psychological depression? If God lies ultimately beyond the human mind's capacity to 
comprehend fully as well as beyond sensory delights, can we experience God at all? Does 
the search for God necessarily culminate in grappling with depression? Carl Jung, in a 
different context, spoke about melancholy as one of the first effects of deep meditation. 20 Is 
there a melancholia that is a spiritual gift rather than a clinical condition? How do we address 
this thin line between the psychic and the pneumatic, the psychological and the spiritual, and 
are we allowed to tamper with it? 

"Modernity" in some ways is pre-occupied with the subjective and the experiential, 21 
the classical turn to the subject. Note how many times I myself used the word "experience" 
in the previous paragraphs. Our tendency is to think of John of the Cross' "dark nights," for 
example, as a certain kind of mystical experience. They are, rather, a critique of the mystical 
life understood as mystical experiences. They are metaphors more for the non-experiential, 
the non-experienceability of God, than for a particular kind of God-experience. We tend to 
interpret John in the light of modern psychology rather than in the light of the history of 
spirituality that preceded him. John attaches great importance to this purgative suffering and 
attempts to delineate what the deprivations of the clouds of forgetting and unknowing feel 
like, or as Denys Turner puts it, John details "the experiential feedback of the soul's 
encounter with God." 22 Turner likewise notes how John's accounts of the dark nights are so 
similar to personal accounts of depression. 

An active asceticism, the ascetical path, the path of all those who take seriously the 
contemplative journey, the path of beginners, this necessary stage in spiritual maturation, is 
doomed to failure - a lesson that must be learned by each of us, for this active asceticism, 
no matter how noble its intent and goal, is unable to achieve what it sets out to accomplish, 
for it simply reinforces the egotistical, possessive self at a higher level of aspiration, a 
spiritual level, but nevertheless an egoism even if a spirtualized egoism, a spiritual self- 
indulgence or spiritual avarice and gluttony as John of the Cross refers to it. 23 Thus the 
beginner in the spiritual life needs to be purified by being plunged into these passive nights, 
in which, as John writes, "an individual does nothing, for God accomplishes the work in him, 
while he acts as the recipient." 24 In other words, the strategies with which we must 
necessarily begin our spiritual journeys at a more intentional level are not the strategies that 
work in the long haul. In the end, nothing "works." In the end there is only God. We simply 
receive. The psychological self experiences something like depression as it finds itself being 


annihilated step by step by grace about which we can do nothing except prevent it by 
reasserting our egos to halt the onslaught of grace. 

Given the similarity at the level of experience between depression and passive or 
dark nights, how are we to tell the difference? How am I to know whether to thank God or to 
seek therapy? The one has its chemical, physiological and psychological causes. The other 
comes about as a result of the closeness of God to the soul. God is seeping in, breaking in. 
Yet this will not help us, for at the level of experience they remain similar. How are we to 
know the cause of our pain, whether it is "of God," or a dysfunction within the psychic self, or 
some combination thereof? John of the Cross attempts to help us discern this. 

A depression is debilitating; it renders us powerless. So is a dark night, but according 
to John it does not leave us powerless. The darkness that comes from God leaves us with 
God, a presence, an awareness, a desire. A dark night is distinct from depression in that it 
does not abandon us to our own resources or agency or lukewarmness. Rather it leaves us 
ever more desirous of serving God. 25 In depression we can become self-absorbed; spiritual 
darkness leaves us God-conscious. Depressions and dark nights are both experiences of 
emptiness but there the similarity ends. A depressed person seeks to regain or restore a 
certain image of the self, seeks self-fulfillment, self-motivation. It is hoped that these will end 
the pain and restore life. But they only return one to the plane which one left, albeit at a 
healthier level. The depressed person clings to a hope for this world. But a passive night of 
the senses or of the spirit leaves us with a whole new level of desire. We are no longer left 
with the same desire as before, even the desire that the ascetical self sustained in order to 
begin its journey which unknowingly would end in both darkness and liberation. In other 
words, the outcomes of a clinical depression and of spiritual darkness are different. The 
latter destructs the self, to be sure, but leaves one with God in the self as a new source of 
power and energy. Catherine of Siena emphasized that entering into the cell of self- 
knowledge was not only a knowledge of the self but of God in the self, of the one who is not 
and the One Who Is. 26 

It takes perseverance to know how close God may be to my suffering. Asceticism, no 
matter now stringent, can never destroy the ego, for it is a function of the ego. God destroys 
the ego and leaves Himself in its place, but perhaps destroys is not the right word, for grace 
does not destroy nature but completes or perfects it. The dark nights are God's way, the only 
way we might add, of re-creating us in God's image and likeness. As Turner puts it again, 
"Active ascetics are well disposed, generously intentioned, heavily disguised, spiritual 
egoists." 27 The only way God has to get us beyond ourselves and our deep conviction that 
spiritual maturity is something of which we are capable by ourselves alone is to make us 
aware that the self we are desiring to be is not the same self that God is calling us to be. 
This latter self is a gift of grace to which we must surrender. Contemplative life is not about 
ourselves at all but about faith - about abandonment, surrender, selflessness that presume 
a basic psychological health. As Teilhard de Chardin once put it, "We must have a self in 
order to deny ourselves." 28 This is the enigma of the spiritual life. We must have a self, a 
healthy psychological self, an ego self only in order to let it go, surrender it, in order to 
receive the Self that God has to give us. This process of attachment and detachment helps 
us to become aware that it is now not I but God who lives within me. Disappointments, 
disillusionments, desolations, darkness, although all different, can lead in the same direction 
- to an awareness of the truth about myself and about God in the self. They can destroy or 
they can build up. Whatever, they eventually lead to a crisis. Depression is one form the 
crisis can take. A deeper contemplative life is another. 


The dark night is an experience to be sure, an experience of loss, but the loss is the 
loss of the illusion that one can experience God as God is in Himself. The dark night is an 
experience in other words of the non-experienceability of God, but in letting go, not clinging 
to the desire to experience God as God is, of one's ego attachment to God, one is given a 
sense of profound peace, or divine presence, for in letting go of God one has found God, or 
rather God at last has found us and been able to give Himself to us, not as we would have it 
be but as God would have it be. Our loss in the end is all gain - but the pain along the way 
may at times be unbearable until we learn to let go of expectations, the shattered dreams, 
the high aspirations - and simply let God be God for us. 

The Gift of Mercy 

My sense is that we are probably very much like the early friars and nuns, talented, 
fragile, gifted and wounded, not all outstanding but all called to be part of something bigger 
than ourselves, each with her own life to offer a great work that is beyond our doing. I recall 
a Jewish midrash on the Moses/Sinai story (Ex 31:8; 32:19; 34:1, 29; 40:20; Deut 10:1-5). 
After Moses had broken in anger the first tablets God had given him, what became of those 
broken, shattered tablets? The whole ones given later were placed in the Ark of the 
Covenant. The midrash narrates that so were the broken ones. Both sets of tablets were 
placed in the Ark. Each of us, each community, each monastery is both broken and whole. 
We do not always see our brokenness as a gift. We hide it and it remains unhealed. But it 
too is to be an offering to the Lord. Out of Dominic's sadness arose a vision that he had 
come to bestow. Out of Las Casas' pain, and solidarity with the indigenous, prophetic words 
were preserved. God works equally well within our pain as within our joy, perhaps even 
more so. 29 As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, puts it: "This genuine heart of 
sadness can teach us great compassion. This continual ache of the human Heart, broken by 
the loss of all that we hold dear, is this not a blessing?" 30 We might ask the question, 
following in the footsteps of Dominic, "Is sadness not a blessing too?" 

There is something about anger, sadness, compassion, and the facts of life that are 
interwoven. We read much in the desert fathers and the early fathers of the church about 
anger. 31 It would not have concerned them so if they had not had to struggle with it. 
Psychologists today will often say, if we delve into the anger, go deep enough, we will find 
sadness. Some anger can be sadness denied. If we could only become comfortable with 
sadness, recognize it, let it flow through us, experience it rather than resent it or blame 
others for it, scapegoating others or the community, 32 we could find its constructive value, its 
transformative value, its compassionate heart. For much of compassion is simply being in 
touch with the sadness of life, and not only our own, but even a kind of cosmic sadness 
(Rom 8:22), certainly a sadness that comes with the sinfulness, the tragedy, the injustices 
and cruelties of the world. If we are in tune with our world and its brokenness and ills, we are 
bound to be sad, although more often we get angry. But this felt compassion for our world 
and its woundedness and victims puts us in touch with the sadness of God. Is this 
awareness not what led John Paul II to return to the text from Genesis ("I regret that I made 
them.") in his reflection on the truth that the Holy Spirit would teach us about sin (Jn 16:11)? 
Our own deep sadness is a connecting point with others, the universe and God. 

What God has in mind for each of us is ultimately grounded in the awareness that it's 
not about me, not even about us. The pledge of future glory is experienced in this life as the 
workings of grace and mercy. Is not our desire for God ultimately a yearning for mercy? A 
passion for God is in the end suffering for God, a "suffering with" the world and a "suffering 
for" God. There is no life worth the journey that cannot count the cost. We are not here for 


us. It's not about me. There's something more of which you and I are but a small essential 
part. What we learn in contemplative living is that holiness, wholeness, in the end is so often 
sadness, suffering, surrender, self-emptying, receiving, grace, gift. Sadness makes us aware 
that life is beyond our control and guides us into opening our hearts and hands to receive. 
Sadness deepens our capacity for receptivity. 

As you know, opinions vary in the history of mystical theology over whether it is love 
or truth, will or intellect, that reigns supreme in our quest for God. Perhaps we ought not be 
surprised that Meister Eckhart viewed neither as supreme. He writes: 

Now the question is: Wherein does blessedness lie most of all? Some 
masters have said it lies in knowing, some say that it lies in loving: others say 
it lies in knowing and loving, and they say better. But we say it lies neither in 
knowing nor in loving: for there is something in the soul from which both 
knowledge and love flow.... 33 

Of course, for Eckhart, this was always "the ground of the soul" and the "birth of the 
Word" in the ground. But what other name might one give this ground from within which our 
passion for God, for truth, for justice, for beauty originates? In another sermon Eckhart 
named it "mercy." 

Whatever God works, the first breaking forth is mercy, not in the sense of his 
forgiving someone their sin or of one person's showing compassion for 
another person. Rather, the master's meaning is that the highest work which 
God performs is mercy. A master says that the work of mercy is so closely 
related to God (granted that truth, abundance, and goodness name God) that 
one [such name] names him better than the others. The highest work of God 
is mercy.... Love takes God just as he is good. If the name goodness were 
removed from God, love would be at a loss what to do. Love takes God with a 
coat on, with a garment on. The intellect does not do this. The intellect takes 
God as he is known in it, but it can never encompass him in the sea of his 
unfathomableness. I maintain that above these two, knowledge and love, is 



This is not far removed from Catherine of Siena's experience of God. For her the gift 
of tears was beyond ordinary sorrow and ordinary joy. 

O immeasurable love! 
O gentle love! 

I know that mercy is your hallmark, 
And no matter where I turn 
I find nothing but your mercy. 35 

And in her Dialogue: "O mercy! My heart is engulfed with the thought of you! For wherever I 
turn my thoughts I find nothing but mercy!" 36 And the Latin word for mercy, misericordia , 
tells us that mercy is a heart open to the suffering. 

Is this then the beginning or the end of our desire? Is not our desire ultimately to 
know mercy? To know God as mercy is to discover, within our yearning for God, God's 
infinite yearning for us. As Denys Turner writes of Augustine, so of all of us. The primary 


agent in Augustine's seeking God is not Augustine but God. 

It is because -- indeed, emphatically, it is only because - God has been and 
is seeking out Augustine that Augustine seeks God; if, for Augustine, his 
seeking is always for God, his seeking is before that from God. 37 

It seems to me this is what the early friars and nuns understood. It was not about 
them. It was about God's overwhelming love for God's creatures, God's friends: praedicatio 
qratiae . The King James Bible translates Micah 6:8 (To act justly, to love tenderly, to walk 
humbly with God [JB] as "to love mercy." Mercy is the tender heartedness of God, the 
tenderness of God, that we find imaged in the heart of flesh that we seek to replace our 
hearts of stone (Ez 1 1:19). To be in love with mercy! Does this not undergird Dominic's life 
as well as his preaching? Is this why Dominic chose not to join the crusade or become a 
bishop? When we live centered, grounded, out of a contemplative heart, when we find 
ourselves bathed in baptismal water, or for Catherine of Siena in the blood of Christ, all we 
can ask is what we asked for at the time of our religious profession: "What do you seek?" 
"God's mercy and yours." 38 Our sadness is turned into joy as though we were being led into 
the heart of the mystery: the mercy of God as the only thing that satisfies our aching hearts 
and wounded world. To know sadness is to find God, but we must pass through it, and not 
bypass it or try to get around it, for in the heart of sadness lies an ecstatic and everlasting 
joy waiting for us. 


Jane Kenyon, Otherwise, New and Selected Poems (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1996), 22. 

See Vladimir Koudelka, Dominic, trans, and ed. Simon Tugwell (London: Darton, Longman and 
Todd, 1997): 56-60, an excellent introduction to the story of Dominic. "By his cheerfulness he easily 
won the love of everybody," Jordan says. Koudelka, 59. Jordan of Saxony, On the Beginnings of 
the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1982), 26 (the Libellus, # 104). 

Aubrey Burl, God's Heretics, The Albigensian Crusade (England: Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2002), 58- 

Koudelka, 6. 

"While the crusaders were in the land, Brother Dominic remained there until the death of the Count 
de Montfort, constantly preaching the word of God. And how many insults he endured there from 
wicked men! How much plotting of theirs he made light of! On one occasion, finally, when they 
were threatening him with death, he replied calmly, 'I am not worthy of the glory of martyrdom, I 
have not yet merited such a death.' Later on, when he was passing by a place where he suspected 
that perhaps they were lying in wait for him, he went on his way singing cheerfully." Jordan of 
Saxony, the Libellus, # 34. Koudelka, 76-78. 

The suggestion that Dominic was present at the battle of Muret has no credible historical basis. Guy 
Bedouelle writes: "A reference made by Bernard Gui (1261-1331) in a Life of St. Dominic does not 
hesitate to claim for his Founder the title of First Inquisitor, following the 'legendary' texts of the 
thirteenth century. Nor has the author of the celebrated "Manual for Inquisitors" hesitated to 
interpolate on his own authority the Albigensian History of Pierre des Vaux de Cernai in order to 
prove Dominic's presence at the Battle of Muret during the bloody Albigensian Crusade on 
September 12, 1213: the Saint is pictured holding in his hands a crucifix riddled with wounds, which 
is still shown at St. Sernin in Toulouse." Cf. Guy Bedouelle, "The Holy Inquisition: Dominic and 
Dominicans," on line at the Order's website. Cf. Guy Bedouelle, Saint Dominic. The Grace of the 
Word (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987). 


7 Aubrey Burl, 39-45. Joseph Strayer, The Albigensian Crusades (Ann Arbor: The University of 
Michigan Press, 1 971 ), 62-63, writes, "It is not true that the leaders of the Crusade shouted: 'Kill 
them all; God will know his own!' But the German monk who invented this story a few years later 
accurately reported the mood of the crusading army. In reporting the victory to the pope, the legate 
Arnaud Amaury said cheerfully that neither age nor sex was spared and that about twenty 
thousand people were killed. The figure is certainly too high; the striking point is that the legate 
expressed no regret about the massacre, not even a word of condolence for the clergy of the 
cathedral who were killed in front of their own altar." Also M.-H. Vicaire, O.P., Saint Dominic and 
His Times (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964), 138, on the number slaughtered. 

8 Aubrey Burl, 48-55. On the first campaign of the crusade at Beziers and Carcassonne, also see 

Strayer, 55-72. 

9 Aubrey Burl, 59. 

10 J. R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (London: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 1-7, the book 
being an account of Simon de Montfort IV, son of Simon de Montfort III, the one who befriended 
Dominic. Vicaire, 145. 


See Vicaire, 137-63, esp. 142-63. 


12 Aubrey Burl 89, 92, 142. 

13 The question of whether Dominicans should become bishops or not was an issue from the 
beginning. Dominic refused several bishoprics himself. See Albert and Thomas, Selected Writings, 
ed. Simon Tugwell, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988): 18. Also 
Vicaire, 152. 

14 Francis Thompson, "The Hound of Heaven," in Diana Culbertson, ed., Invisible Light, Poems about 
God (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 125-30. 

Cf., Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, The Man from whom God Hid 
Nothing (New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 2001). 

Pope John Paul II, "Dominum et vivificantem," (encyclical letter "The Holy Spirit, Giver of Life), # 39. 
Also see Gerald Vann, The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God (Oxford: Blackfriars Publications), 

On the Isaian servant poems and the suffering servant, see Donald Goergen, The Death and 
Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1988, originally published by Liturgical Press): 

Mark Sibley Jones, Dazzling and Divine, A Contemplative Journey in Christ (Austin, TX: LangMarc 
Publishing, 2003). 

Ibid., 120. 

20 C.J. Jung, "Mysterium Conjunctionis," in The Collected Works of C.G.Jung, vol. 14, 2 nd ed. 



(Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1970), 497-533. 

I am indebted in the following paragraphs to insights from Denys Turner, The Darkness of God, 
Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge University Press, 1995), esp 226-251. 

Ibid., 231. 

John of the Cross, The Dark Night I, chaps 3 & 6, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, 
trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 
1973), 302-309. 

John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1/13/1, in The Collected Works, op. cit. ,101. 

John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, I, chap 9, op. cit., 313-316. 

Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, Classics of Western Spirituality (New 
York: Paulist Press, 1980): chaps. 4, 86; pp. 29, 158. Cf. Donald J. Goergen, The Jesus of 
Christian History (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1992, originally published by The Liturgical Press): 

Turner, Darkness of God, 242. 

Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), esp. 69-76. 

"The Mystical Milieu" (1917), in Writings in Time of War (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 131- 
32. Ibid., 127: "The power to appreciate and to open the heart is indispensable to the awakening 
and the maintenance of the mystical appetite. But all the raptures they bring put together are not so 
effective as the icy chill of a disappointment in showing us that you alone, my God, are stable. It is 


through sorrow, and through joy that your Godhead gradually assumes, in our sentient faculty , the 
higher Reality it possesses in the nature of things, but which it is so difficult even for those who are 
most fully initiated to put into words." 

30 From "Genuine Broken Heart," by Ani Pema Chodron. Also see Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, 
Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Boston: Shambhala, 2000), where she speaks about "A fearlessly 
compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others," and "leaning into the sharp points,' 

31 Cf., Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993), 
267-73. Also John Cassian, The Conferences, trans. Boniface Ramsey (New York: Paulist Press, 
1997), conference sixteen on friendship, esp. 560-75. 

32 Cf. Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats'? (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987); Gil 
Bailie, Violence Unveiled (New York: Crossroad Pub., 1997). 

33 M. O'C. Walshe, II, 272 (Sermon 87) ; also contained in Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, 
ed. Bernard McGinn, 199-203 (Sermon 52). 

34 Meister Eckhart, Preacher and Teacher, ed. Bernard McGinn, 253-254 (Sermon 7); also contained 
in M.O'C. Walshe, II, 188-89 (Sermon 72). Also see Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of 
Meister Eckhart, 152-53. 

35 Catherine of Siena, The Prayers, second ed., trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P. (New York: Authors 
Choice Press, 2001), no. 9, 72. 

36 Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, ch. 30, 72. 

i7 Denys Turner, Darkness of God, 59. Also see his chapters six and seven on Eckhart. 

From the Rite of Religious Profession in the Order of Preachers. This question and response were 
already contained in the Primitive Constitutions of the Order. Cf., "Primitive Constitutions," in Saint 
Dominic, Biographical Documents, ed. Francis Lehner, O.P. (Washington, D.C.: The Thomist 
Press, 196). 

To know God as Mercy is to discover, 
within our yearning for God, 
God's infinite yearning for us. 



Elizabeth McDonough, OP. 

Congregation of St. Mary of the Springs 

These are random thoughts (truly) thrown together, at what I consider to be not an 
end, but a new beginning. They were not collected in any organized fashion, but they do 
seem to fit— after writing them down and looking them over-into four basic categories. The 
first category seems to be "What's it all about, really?" Somewhat like the song of some 
decades ago: "What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What's it all about, 
Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give?" The second category seems to be "What's 
the difference between men and women?" That is: what's the real difference between men 
and women in the spiritual life, which I think is rather important. And the third category seems 
to be "How does God ever get to us, anyway?" The last part is "What does God really ask of 
us, anyway?" At least, these are the categories into which my comments "sort of" fall. 

I am convinced that each of our lives, and all of our lives, is about transformation into 
the likeness of Jesus Christ. That is, everybody's life, not just yours and mine and other 
religious but everybody's life, your married brothers and sisters and people on the street who 
are in trouble and, indeed, everybody's life. We are all called to be transformed, in our own 
way, into the likeness of Christ. And, to use a familiar phrase, we are called to that, "no 
more, no less, and no other." No more because there isn't any more. No less, because why 
would we want any less? And no other because there is only one Way and one Truth and 
one Life and one love and one pain and one dying and one rising— only one. There is only 
one faith, one Spirit, one hope, one baptism— only one. So our lives are about no more, no 
less and no other than transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ. 

Now, that transformation is tough at times, but this is not because we are bad. I think 
much of the history of spirituality convinces people that they are bad, but we are not bad. 
And Aquinas has great confidence in human nature ennobled and enabled by grace. 
Without grace we are in very bad shape, but with that— which is what we do have— we are in 
good shape; and we have to keep working at becoming better in the likeness of Jesus Christ. 
Now because God is so good, so holy— or as Father John Corbett taught us— is so "other, 
other, other"— or as Father Don Goergen taught us— is so "NO thing" at all, it takes a bit of 
doing to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And, of course, it takes a long time to 
figure out it is not our doing. So, what do we do? I think— not as a theologically astute 
conclusion but rather as reflection on the way things have been the last half century or 
so— that each of us in every walk of life does whatever he or she can, more or less 
(sometimes more and sometimes less), to avoid this transformation because it is tough. 
Remember, it is tough not because we are so bad but because God is so holy, so other, so 

Now various forms of consecrated life, it seems to me, offer more opportunities to 
channel our energies into being transformed into the likeness of Christ or, if you will, more 
opportunities to limit our avoidance of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Or so it 
seems to me. And I conjecture theoretically the cloistered contemplative life is supposed 
theoretically— notice I am talking about "theoretically" — supposed to leave fewest possible 

Editor's Note: This is a transcription of an address given at the closing session of the Dominican Nuns 2004 Assembly. Sister's 
speaking style has been retained. Sr. Elizabeth is a consultant to the Conference, holding a Doctorate in Canon Law and a Licentiate 
in Sacred Theology, and has assisted various monastic communities for more than two decades. 


means for avoidance of engaging in that transformation. Now that is all theoretically. But, 
you know, between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. 

The presentations this week have been truly wonderful. On harmony.. .the diversity 
that has come about without discord. ..arriving at balance and understanding and 
"welcomingness"...our vision clarified and accepted. ..the coming to be of the Word in our 
being. ..holiness as other and what do we mean by "taking cover". ..happiness as engaging 
the whole self as Dominicans. ..and happiness as relating to others in community.. .grief as 
one of the ways of leading us back to that wholly other, supremely simple, forever 
harmonious, NO-thing who is the only one able to assuage that eternal ache of the gaping, 
wounded emptiness of our human longing. ..of our inner being— our inner (capital) "I" or 
(small) "i". The talks really have been truly wonderful. 

But, you know, "back at the ranch"— what's it like? Now I have not been in too many 
of your monasteries, so I am not picking on anyone, I am just probably projecting from the 
Carmelite and Trappistine and Poor Clare monasteries where I've been. What's the real 
difference between men and women? Well you know, you can tell you are in a seminary or a 
friary instead of in a convent or a nun's monastery, when the kneelers weigh forty pounds 
and take two sisters to lift them up and down. Most of all, you can tell you are in a seminary 
or friary instead of in a convent or a monastery, because in a monastery none of the 
kneelers have ever had anybody's feet on them; the kneelers have been untouched by 
anything but knees even after the sisters who built the monastery are long dead. ..but in 
seminaries and in friaries people actually put their feet on them. How else do you know 
when you are in a friary or a seminary instead of a convent or monastery? You know when 
there are only two hangers in the closet and half the hooks are six inches higher than you 
can reach. There are other examples. But the real difference between men and women, it 
seems to me, is in the way we live together— and don't take this too wrongly. It is that men 
stone each other to death with bricks, a ton of bricks, and just throw bricks at each other. 
Women, on the other hand, stone each other to death with a ton of popcorn. But now, what 
is the difference between a ton of bricks and a ton of popcorn? One takes longer than the 
other. Sometimes you get hit with a brick in a monastery, but most of the time you get hit 
with popcorn and the little kernels just stick all over you. 

So, what about back at the ranch (?) where-if you are lucky-you may have only three 
jobs. Back at the ranch where— if you are lucky— you may not have a building that is a 
humungous functional burden but just a moderate functional burden. Back at the ranch 
where you may have sisters who are very unsettled. Why are there so many dysfunctional 
sisters in monasteries? I think it is because monastic-cloistered-contemplative nuns are so 
aware of their own infirmities that, when it comes time to admit someone or not admit 
someone, you always give people the benefit of a doubt because you think "I wasn't all that 
good when I started out either and if they didn't let me in I wouldn't have had a chance and 
so I'll give this person the benefit of a doubt." But I think that sometimes you may do this too 
much, and after the fact you end up mostly with many doubts and few benefits. So, back at 
the ranch, you may have sisters who have been unsettled for a long time and others who 
seem to have settled everything long ago. Sometimes, back at the ranch, you may have to 
struggle to make ends meet and not merely in finances. You may have to make the ends of 
the spectrum of the people with whom you have to deal come together constructively. So, I 
have some caricatures for you of sisters. Don't we all have a Sister Mary Bleeding 
Heart— not of the Sacred Heart— but wearing her bleeding heart on her sleeve everywhere? 


Don't we all have a Sister Mary Solid Marshmallow— crusty as they come but wonderful 
inside? Don't we all have, somewhere, a Sister Mary Terminator— not as in Arnold 
Schwartzenegger— but the one who gets the last word in at the end of the discussion bringing 
you back to where you started before the point at which you thought you'd finally made some 
progress? And what about Sister Mary Isolation —not splendid— in a world all her own, 
never even knew the tree fell, never noticed the toilets weren't flushing [This remark evoked 
much laughter because these problems actually occurred during the Assembly, due to a 
hurricane. - Ed.], and she really has to talk to you about the hem in her scapular when the 
roof is falling in. What about Sister Mary Inquisition— question everything and everyone. 
Watch out, she's coming! What can I tell her now? Occasionally we also have a Sister Mary 
Barracuda— whatever you say, no matter what, it is wrong and you are going to get chewed 

So, let's go back to the point that theoretically {he cloistered contemplative life offers 
greater means for the possibility of transformation into the likeness of Christ and theoretically 
offers fewer means for avoidance of that transformation. But, in fact, most of us spend most 
of our lives being stoned to death with popcorn. So what happens? The search for that 
genuine longing— that inner ache never to be assuaged by anything but the NO-thing that is 
the ultimate wholly other that has called each of us and for which we long. ..that search 
suffers from what I would call benign neglect, not deliberate but very functional and very real. 
Or, for some sisters there seems to be a turning towards— for whatever reason-increasingly 
convenient or increasingly clever avoidance, by being caught in what I would call 
monumental trivia. One's eternal salvation in a convent sometimes can seem to be 
strangely but directly connected with how much the window is open or closed, or with how 
much white is showing under your veil today or whether your crease is in the right spot or 
how big the fold is in your cuff. We can be conveniently, increasingly caught in monumental 
trivia and we can easily catch each other in it. I think that we become tremendously 
preoccupied with attempting more or less to live one another's lives, however that may be. If 
we had our "druthers" most of us would mostly like to have things our way, so we seem to 
spend our time nit-picking what we can, in order to have things our way. We are very 
ingeniously inventive at filling the gaps in our lives— and we all have gaps in our lives— with 
anything but God. Anything but God, because if God fills the gaps, I might have to change, 
while if I fill them with all these other things, I can keep having at least something— maybe 
lots of things--my way. 

So, what do we do? We increase the territory of our turf. It takes a while to figure out 
in any convent or monastery what turf is available to you because most of it is already taken. 
Someone knows exactly how the condiments have to be placed, and it will be a long time 
before anyone replaces her. And someone knows exactly how you really have to get the 
wax off things in the sacristy, and it will take years before anyone can replace her. So it 
takes a while to figure out your turf, but we all do it (and if you are lucky, like me, you don't 
have much competition because there are not a lot of canon lawyers around). We stake out 
our turf and then subtly or not-so-subtly impose conformity on one another-- in the extreme 
or in the minute-and we do not let others live the life they were called to live and, in the 
meantime, we are not living it either. No one can really have a new way of doing things for at 
least two or three decades because it would be disruptive. And enclosure can have a 
tendency at times (not among Dominicans, of course) to become-- instead of sacred space, 
within and without— a line in the sand, a physical boundary keeping some physically in and 
others physically out. But enclosure is not about that at all— which does not mean we do not 


have to have boundaries— it is about sacred inner space, and sacred outer space which is 
necessary to foster the inner space. But we concentrate on the boundary of the outer space 
and spend a good deal of time cluttering the inner space. No one can have a new idea in a 
monastery, so it takes a long time to move anyone into a position of authority. She has to be 
around long enough to get the idea that new ideas don't fit. That takes about forty years. The 
Poor Clare nuns have this wonderful thing in their constitutions: their council members are 
called "discreets" because Clare's rule says that the abbess when making more important 
decisions should consult some of the sisters who are "more discreet"— which means that 
every time there is an election there must be one new discreet. Now just (probably) like 
Dominicans who do not have this rule, they get around this by playing musical chairs. The 
abbess moves to discreet and a discreet moves to the abbess position; and if she's strong 
you're fine, and if she's not, you control her. 

Given all this back at the ranch, and more, how does God ever get to us? How does 
God ever get to us despite our cleverly concocted, conscious or unconscious plans not to let 
him daily disrupt our world? Well, he does. Right where we are, doing what we are doing, 
business as usual, and God intervenes. One of my favorite stories is Samuel and Eli in the 
temple. Samuel hears someone calling and goes to Eli and says "You called me." And Eli 
says "I didn't. Go back to sleep." So Samuel goes to sleep and again hears someone calling 
and goes to Eli and says "You called me." and Eli says "I didn't. Go back to sleep." So 
Samuel goes back to sleep and hears someone calling and goes to Eli and says "You called 
me," and this time Eli understands that God is calling Samuel— so some people are slower 
than others to understand and its good to give them another chance— and this time Eli does 
not say go make a Holy Hour. He does not say fast for three days and nights. He does not 
say all the things that we would think up if we thought God was speaking to us. What does 
he say? "GO TO SLEEP." Why? Because God is going to find us, whenever he wants us, 
right where we are, doing whatever we are supposed to be doing. Now, I have to say I do 
agree with Father Gabriel that the most important thing we can be doing is liturgy, but I also 
have to say that if your liturgy is not something wherein each one of you is offered and 
blessed and broken and transformed and poured out and shared and changed then we 
certainly have a valid sacrament but something about what is supposed to happen hasn't 
happened, because Eucharist is not just a priest "confecting" a valid, legitimate sacrament. 
It is each of us— in her own way-being offered and blessed and broken and shared and 
poured out and consumed and changed forever, from this moment on, for the better, a little 
bit more each day. And if our liturgy is not about that, it is really not about what it is really 
about, or so it seems to me. 

We are made free (free!) at the Eucharist. One thing I would like to tell you about 
canon law is the opportunity it provides for learning about spirituality and religious life and 
Eucharist. For example, Canon law is based on Roman law; and in Roman law there was a 
freeing of slaves called ad mensam which meant that if the master invited a slave to eat with 
him, he was instantly no longer a slave. Do you think Jesus did not know any Roman law, 
growing up in the control of the Roman Empire? I think he did: "I long to eat this meal with 
you." "Come to the table." This is not just a sacrifice, it is a meal. And you are more free by 
sharing this meal every day. So, right where we are, doing what we are doing, avoiding or 
trying, whatever the case may be, the risen Christ stands before us and beckons us to let 
him fill the longing, the emptiness. Now, how does he do that really? 


Here is another of my favorite passages. It is the wonderful Whitsuntide gospel of 
doubting Thomas. Remember, he wasn't there the first time and now Jesus comes again 
and what does Jesus say? He doesn't stand behind a lectern and lecture. He stands there 
wounded. In the resurrection of the body, the wounds do not go away. They are 
transformed. So he stands there before Thomas, and guess what he says? "Touch me." 
(This is the opposite of Sister Mary Isolation.) He says "Touch me. I know how hard it is to 
be human. I know how hard it is to grow up in a single parent family. I know how hard it is 
when your neighbors don't like you. I know how hard it is when your family thinks you're 
crazy. I know how hard it is when your friends betray you. I know how hard it is to try to do 
what's right and be misunderstood. I know how hard it is to die because you don't take the 
easy way out. Touch me. I'm real." And you are too. And you have to let your sisters touch 
you. Let them touch the wounds you have been hiding for years. So they will know you grew 
up in a single parent family. You have had friends who betrayed you. You have been 
misunderstood. You have been treated unjustly. And, you know what? You are the better 
for it. Because we have the uncanny ability to make the worst of the best possible situation, 
but God has the uncanny ability to make the best of the worst possible situation, and that is 
what the resurrection is all about. "Touch me," he says. "I know what it's like to be really 
human," so don't pretend you're not really human. 

So how does this happen? How does God get to us, really, and what does God ask 
of us, really? I think God asks us to do whatever we can as well as we can for as long as we 
can. And I don't think he asks any more than that. Do what you can. Do it as well as you 
can. Do it as long as you can. That's a sliding scale. Sometimes you get better at things, 
and sometimes you get worse. As you get older, aches come and go-mostly come and 
don't go. And you are not as good at doing what you used to be doing. ..can't hit that high A 
anymore. ..can't climb the stairs anymore. ..can't do as much work as you could. That's all 
right. Do what you can, as well as you can, for as long as you can— and not one minute 
longer or you are going to be a burden to somebody else. Know when to let go. That's all 
God asks of us, but we ask much more of one another. 

What does God expect of us? Take good care of yourself. Remember that song 
"Take good care of yourself, you belong to me." God sings it to me every now and then. One 
of the best gifts you can give to your community is to be healthy, but I am not talking about 
being a hypochondriac. Take good care of yourself because this is the body that goes to 
God, not somebody else's body; so take good care of yourself. 

What does God expect of us? Be not afraid. Whatever happens to us is for the good 
of others. God is honing our hearts in a way we would rather not have it and cannot escape 
and would not have imagined, but in the end it is for the sake of others and we are the better 
for it and so are they. That's what happens in our lives, sometimes with bricks and 
sometimes with popcorn. But it is God acting when things happen to us that we cannot 
escape and really don't want and would rather have otherwise and cannot control and 
somehow we are changed for the better and we have learned something interiorly that is 
helpful to others. Here is one example from my life. Many people have said to me how good 
I am at listening to you and getting things straight, and I am. But that is because some forty 
years ago after I entered the convent my parents were divorced. My brother and my sister 
and my mother and my father wouldn't talk to each other. They all talked to each other 
through me for thirteen years. Now I hated every minute of it, but— you know what?— I got 
really good at listening and I got really good at how to communicate what was really being 


said-maybe not using the same words-but clearly and concisely, and now it is a helpful skill. 
That is one little example, and you probably have your own wherein you learned something 
even though you did not like it and it has been of service to others. 

What does God expect of us? To become people of integrity, not merely of 
conformity. Become women of integrity. Why do I say that? I describe integrity as - if you 
could measure it— you cannot really— but if you can gauge it, it's something like an inverse 
proportion to the gap between what someone says and what someone does. Again, integrity 
is somewhat measured (if you could) in inverse proportion to the gap between what 
someone says and what someone does. And I got that idea from God. Now I am not talking 
about some vision or locution. I am talking about God being as good as his word because 
he is his Word and there are no gaps. That's what integrity is: no gaps in my being. Now we 
all have gaps in our being, but I would urge that, in becoming transformed into the likeness 
of Christ, we might lessen the gap between what we say and what we do. 

What do we mostly do? Well, life is so short and so fragile that I think we mostly 
muddle through in the more than mildly mundane reality of our day-after-day dealing with the 
foibles and failures of ourselves and others. It is not in the easy moment of emotion that our 
integrity— our transformation-comes to be, but in ongoing true devotion. You know Aquinas 
says true devotion is prompt readiness always to do the will of God, whatever is necessary to 
do the will of God. And that takes me to Philippians 2, the canticle for Evening Prayer I of 
Sunday every week: "Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God 
something to be grasped at." So, what is it that is really going on here? I would say that in 
imitation of Christ, we need to let go. Remember... "Watch out! God is coming and God is 
holy, so take cover." Well, I think we "take cover" by letting go. Why? Transformation into 
the likeness of Christ requires— or at least involves — letting go of what is rightfully ours for 
the sake of others and voluntarily sustaining that letting go to the point at which we lose 
control of the consequences and are willing again and again to have it God's way. That is 
what I think Philippians is all about. Christ lets go of what he has by right— Godhead-not for 
God's sake but for our sake and voluntarily sustains this. God the Father did not send Jesus 
to be slain. Jesus freely embraced what it was that was to be done and he kept embracing it, 
though we have to be careful about saying Jesus "lost control of the consequences" 
because at any moment (as he said) he could have called upon angels. But he didn't. He 
embraced God's will no matter what the consequences. We call upon angels to get us out of 
everything, and Christ could have called upon angels but he didn't. Therein is the message. 
We need voluntarily to let go of what is ours by right and we need voluntarily to sustain that, 
and keep sustaining it until we are really transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. 

The little print of the Wise Men that Father Manuel Merton showed us reminds me of 
the saying from the Story of the Other Wise Man: "It is always better to follow the shadow of 
the best than to be content with the least." For years after I first made profession, after 
Communion every day I would repeat my vows. I did this for years and years so that I 
wouldn't forget what I really said; and after a while when I got over that carefully crafted fake 
spirituality about which Father Don spoke, I began to say instead: "Beginning today, I 
promise you me, which is all that I have and hope to become for the rest of my life, forever." 
And I close by adding: no more, no less, no other. 


TJhe Second (Joungesr 

GDy hAiR srid dRipping cuer 

ApreR rhe &Arh And unrh, Ar (Asr, 

rhe (ARge oihire romeC uihich hAd 

hung oveR my shouCdeRS 

nom in his hAnds 

1 rhoughr, As 1 KneCr on rhe gROund 

fcepoRe my pArheR 

And he dRied my hAiR And rACHed, 

1 was rhe son op A god. 

, ^V-'- ■'*' ■.,, , 

1 r was rhe same 

uiARmrh, rhe sAme RepeAred RiruAC 

poR At( op us, my pouR 6RorheR8 

And my rhRee sisreRS - 

uihen, in ruRn, ApreR our &Arh 

iue uiouCd cCim6 

rhe dARk srAiRs ro rhe Cighred Room 

uiheRC my pArheR sAr in his chAiR 

(jJe uieRe, 1 suppose, tike smaXC 

miriAres: rhe giRCs 

in rheiR coCouRed nighr-gouins 

And Red stippeRs, And rhe 6oys 

unrh our oihire rouieCs 

across our shoutdeRS, LueARing 


6ur nAked pRom rhe uiAisr up. 

No pitgRims op rhe A&soture, 

lr 8 c(eAR no shining devorees 

in sAppRon eveR Cooked 

As RAdiAnr And cteAnsed As me did 

or eveR c(im6ed 

ro rheiR lCCumined srAres op souC 

As uie cCim6ed up rhose srAiRsl 

1 was pve or Ar mosr 

syc yeARS otd, rhe second youngesr. 

5ur once 1 hAd 

6RAved rhe dARkness op rhe srAiRs 

Atone, my rRiAt uiAs oveR 

PRom shAdouis inro Cighr 

rhe dooR opened, And 1 srepped 

inro rhe hush op rhe Room. 

So vivid, 1 Remem6eR rhAr 6Righr 
rhReshotdl Bur rcaC 
itCuminArion cAme, moments 
(AreR when 1 knetr douin 
ne^r ro rhe pRe, As neAR 
As 1 couCd ro my pArheWs chAiR 
And 6ouied my heAd. 

1 Remem6eR As soon 

As he 6egAn ro ctey my hAiR 

unrh rhe rouiet 

And uiARm my hAiR unrh his hAnds 

Cipring his ruio pAtms 

ro rhe pRe 

And (erring rhem Resr on my heAd, 

1 rhoughr 1 uiAs rhe son op A god. 

pAu( CDuRRAy, O.p. 

Editor's Note: We present here just one of the many beautiful poems Father Murray shared 
with the sisters at an evening gathering of the 2004 Assembly. 

Printed with permission of the Author and Publisher this poem is from These Black Stars, 

(Ireland: The Dedalus Press, 2003) distributed by Dufour Editions Ltd, P.O. Box 7, 

Chester Springs, PA 19425 



Sister Rose Dominic, O.P. 
Summit, NJ 

Like the Deer that Yearns for the Fountains of Waters 

What is the mystery of the human heart, that it perpetually hungers for a 
happiness which it can never seem to find? This insatiable hunger is not peculiar to 
any one race or nation or to any particular age in time, rather it is common to all 
humankind, being part of the very fabric of human nature, so to speak. To be 
convinced of this we have only to read the words of Ecclesiastes which scholars say 
were penned about the third century before Christ. Therein the author said: 

I said to myself, "Come, now, let me try you with pleasure and the 
enjoyment of good things." But behold, this too was vanity. I undertook 
great works; I built houses and planted vineyards; I made gardens and 
parks, and set out in them fruit trees of all sorts. And I constructed for 
myself reservoirs to water a flourishing woodland. I acquired male and 
female slaves, and slaves were born in my house. I amassed for myself 
silver and gold, and the wealth of kings and provinces. I had male and 
female singers and all human luxuries. I became great.. .Nothing that my 
eyes desired did I deny them. ..But when I turned to all the works that my 
hands had wrought, and to the toil at which I had taken such pains, 
behold! All was vanity and a chase after wind (Eccl 2 [cf. NAB]). 

About six centuries later, St. Augustine, while still pursuing a dissolute way of life, 
discovered the same thing, as he admits in his Confessions. He said that he refused 
himself no gratification in his quest for happiness but could not find it until he ultimately 
found God, the Source and Principle of his being: in Him he found peace, and the 
fulfillment of all his desires. 

There is no one who does not long for the fullness of life, that is, for self- 
fulfillment in the achievement of all his or her desires, but we humans greatly differ in 
our opinions as to what the fullness of life really means, so that our desires and goals 
may be widely divergent. For some it means the acquisition of wealth, power or social 
prestige, for others, fame and honor, for others still, the enjoyment of lesser things 
which could be summed up in the Epicurean philosophy: "Let us eat and drink today, for 
tomorrow we die." Yet the older one grows, the more one perceives that none of these 
things of themselves can give one that fullness of life for which we long. 

Material pleasure or achievements can attract us for a time but they can never 
permanently satisfy: indeed their very achievement can often accentuate the deep 
sense of a void which remains unfulfilled within our heart. 


Where, then can we ever hope to find the key to that happiness which always 
seems to elude our grasp? Jesus Himself supplied the key when He said: "The 
kingdom of God is within you" (Lk 1 7:21 ). We are made for God, the Supreme Good, 
and nothing less than God can satisfy the deepest yearning of our heart. We cannot 
find complete satisfaction in any created good because our nature yearns for the 
possession of the infinite Good in whose likeness we are made. That is the source of 
our yearning and it is only in the possession of God that it can be satisfied. 

We could compare this restless longing of the heart to the law of attraction which 
is operative throughout the entire universe whereby the sun draws the planets 
irresistibly to itself, or the North Star draws the needle of the compass. Our ceaseless 
yearning for happiness which we can never seem to find, is in reality the mysterious 
action of God eternally drawing us to Himself as the Source and Principle from which 
we come and the End to which we tend. 

Augustine expressed it so well: 

In what place then did I find You to learn of You? For You were not in my 
memory, before I learned of You. Where then did I find You to learn of 
You, save in Yourself, above myself? Place there is none, we go this way 
and that, and place there is none. You, who are Truth, reside everywhere 
to answer all... . 

Late have I loved Thee, oh Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I 
loved Thee! For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought 
Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that 
Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee, I was kept 
from Thee by these things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not 
have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my 
deafness: and Thou didst send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and 
chase away my blindness: Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me, and I 
drew in my breath and do now pant for Thee: I tasted Thee, and now 
hunger and thirst for Thee. When once I shall be united to Thee with all 
my being, there shall be no more grief and toil, and my life will be alive, 
filled wholly with Thee. 1 

Jesus had much to say about that fullness of life which Augustine discovered 
when he found God. He said that the happiness for which we yearn is not to be found 
in abundance of material possessions but rather in the possession of God, for it is the 
presence of God which alone can give true meaning to life: 

I came that they might have life and have it to the full (Jn 10:10). 
Peace is My farewell to you, My peace is my gift to you; I do not give it to 
you as the world gives peace (Jn 27). 

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have 
kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I 


have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be 
full (Jn15:10-11). 

My kingdom is not of this world. (Jn 18:36). 

Indeed, through personal experience we ultimately come to realize that the 
knowledge and love of God, with the service of a virtuous life that springs from it, is the 
truest wealth of all. Without God one can never be truly rich, with Him, one can never 
be truly poor. Life without God is like a ship without a compass adrift on a storm- 
tossed sea, driven about by the conflicting winds of various human philosophies, 
without true purpose or goal. But in finding God we find the key to life and to the 
mystery of our own destiny. 

It is this deep yearning that lies at the heart of every vocation to the religious life. 

Religious Life 

Religious life or Consecrated life as it is called today, has been found in the 
Church in one form or another since the earliest days of Christian history; indeed we 
could say that it forms part of the warp and woof of the Church's life, so much so that its 
familiar presence in its multiple and varied aspects among the faithful tends to conceal 
its essential mystery and its ultimately supernatural character. 

First, to consider the question of vocation in itself. What is a vocation? It is the 
mysterious call of God issued to every human soul at one time or another during the 
course of life, inviting the individual to serve Him in a specific way. We could express it 
in another way by saying that it is the mysterious action of Divine Grace attracting the 
soul to God, to find its fulfillment and fullness of life for which it longs, in the depths of 
God's own mystery. This action of grace is mystery, gift and drawing. As I have 
expressed it in a poem and hymn: 

Magnetic Star, Thy Godhead's fascination 
Doth draw Man to Thine inmost mystery, 
To find in Thee life's truest exaltation, 
The Truth that can alone exalt and free. 2 

The ways in which God exercises this attraction on the human heart are as 
manifold as the types of character which they influence, for every soul, being unique, 
must come to God by its own unique path. We touch upon the mystery of a vocation 
when we realize that it implies a twofold movement, firstly, the mysterious action of 
God's attraction on the one hand and the free response of the person on the other, and 
we know that in the last analysis a vocation is far more importantly the work of God than 
the work of man. Jesus referred to this when He said to His apostles at the Last 

You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and have appointed you 
that you should go and bring forth fruit, and your fruit should remain (Jn 


A vocation in life always implies stability or permanence, and the various 
vocations, so diverse and manifold, are brought into a basic unity in the various states 
of life which are recognized by the Church. In this matter of Vocation we can consider 
the Church as the Vineyard of God (cf Mt 20), in which every soul is appointed by God 
to its own specific task throughout the day of life. There is work for all to do, and each 
work has its own intrinsic value and dignity. No one is ever compelled by God to 
embrace any specific vocation, rather each one is free to make a personal choice. A 
natural attraction to a particular state, together with an aptitude for the discharge of its 
obligations, constitutes a basic element of any vocation. Why one feels drawn to one 
state rather than another is truly a mystery. This attraction is in reality the mysterious 
Call of God drawing the person to Himself in the way He wills it to serve Him, and the 
Church says that for each person, that state of life is best, to which he or she feels 
called by God. 

The states of life, whether single, married, or consecrated to God by vow, are all 
holy and all are called to holiness as the Second Vatican Council so emphatically 

All in the Church. ..are called to holiness, according to the apostle's saying 
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (Th 4:3). It is therefore 
quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the 
fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness 
a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. 3 

The Religious Life is that drawing of God which calls one to follow Christ in the 
gift of oneself through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. 
Without lessening the value of human love and marriage which of themselves image 
the union of love of Christ for the Church, consecrated life and chastity presents this 
image and union in a more immediate way and brings that surpassing excellence to 
which all human love should tend. 4 

Being bound to God by vows means to be free from hindrances, free for loving 
and serving God and His people. And since we are bound to the whole body of Christ, 
every one can call us "sister." 

All the members of the Church should unflaggingly fulfill the duties of their 
calling. The profession of the evangelical counsels shines before them 
as a sign which can and should effectively inspire them to do so. For the 
People of God has here no lasting city but seeks the city which is to 
come, and the religious state of life, in bestowing greater freedom from 
the cares of earthly existence on those who follow it, simultaneously 
reveals more clearly to all believers the heavenly goods which are already 
present in this age, witnessing to the new and eternal life which we have 
acquired through the redemptive work of Christ and preluding our future 
resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom (LG 44). 


The dignity and excellence of every type of vocation should be thoroughly 
considered, not seeking to exalt one vocation to the exclusion of another, so that by 
means of an honest appraisal the person seeking advice may be helped to an ultimate 
choice. It is also helpful to draw attention to the fact that while no state of life is exempt 
from suffering, the contentment that springs from the knowledge that one is in the state 
of Life in which one truly belongs, will make the burdens of life much easier to bear. 

Called to Follow Jesus Christ 

"Come, and follow Me." Jesus has spoken those words to us. He is the One 
for whom we have given up all, that in Him we may find all, as He himself said: 
"Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find 
it" (Mt 16:25). "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with all His 
angels and then He will render to every one according to their works" (Mt 16:27). 

Any survey of universal history reveals that the great cosmic event around which 
the mystery of human destiny revolves, was the entrance of Christ the Promised Savior 
into the world, as Man. His coming was foretold, prepared, longed for, the culmination 
of a Divine work of ages. The prophets had called Him "the Desired of all nations" (cf 
Gen 49:10; Hag 2:8), for His salvation was to be for all; as all had shared in the guilt of 
Adam's sin, all were likewise to share in the Savior's redemption. "The Word became 
flesh" says St John. In other words Jesus Christ is the Word - God - made man. The 
Artificer of the cosmos enters our history. Time is directly touched by the Divine. Christ 
is a cosmic Figure: He is present in all human history, He fulfills all prophecy, King of 
ages, God made man. As Lord of ages He stands at the center of time and draws its 
mystery about Himself like the folds of a beautiful robe. He is the focal point of time, for 
without Him the checkered pattern of human events lacks cohesion. But in the light of 
His presence everything will be gathered up and be reconciled and returned to the 
Father - with harmony restored by His Cross. Christ's Mystery overshadows all time, all 
ages, all peoples. 

This is the Mystery, this is the Christ we profess to follow. "Let the Cross be for 
you, as it was for Christ, proof of the greatest love. Is there not a mysterious 
relationship between renunciation and joy, between sacrifice and magnanimity, 
between discipline and spiritual freedom?" (ET #29). Christ's infinite charity was 
expressed in His freely accepting death on the Cross. Christ's victory is manifest in His 
Resurrection from the dead and His return to the Father. Religious persons follow Him, 
live in Him, preach Him, worship Him. And they pray that all may come to know and 
love Him. 

In Him alone the heart can find its rest, 

Its doubts be stilled, its restless yearning cease, 

He is the end of Man's eternal quest, 

His Way, His Truth, His life, His blessed peace. 


Dominic, Follower of Christ 

The father of the Order of Preachers, Dominic de Guzman, was a priest, a 
Canon of St Augustine. Mysteriously he was drawn to follow Christ. Seemingly strange 
events called him to travel across Europe. Then it was that he saw people suffering 
and struggling on the road of salvation. He and his Bishop were directed by the Pope 
to go to the aid of these people and preach to them of the hope and promise and peace 
that were in Christ and His Gospel. It was a new call and there were new followers. 
This time, followers of Dominic. 

His one constant petition to God was for the gift of a true charity, for he 
was convinced that he could not be truly a member of Christ unless he 
consecrated himself wholly to the work of gaining souls, following the 
example of Him who sacrificed Himself without reserve for our 
redemption. 5 

Dominic's prayer was answered. He was filled with a great spirit of prayer and 
charity. It is a fullness which we his children share to this day. His charism, his 
vocation is ours. Dominic would proclaim the Mystery of Christ. We are all called by 
the mystery of God's immense love. May we be faithful unto death. 

1 Confessions of St Augustine, Bk 10: 26, 27, 28, trans. Frank Sheed (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943), 

2 All the poems given in this paper are by the author. 

3 Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 39 & 40. 

4 Evangelica testificatio, Apostolic Exhortation on the Renewal of Religious Life, June 29, 1971, 

Pope Paul VI. See #13. 

5 Jordan of Saxony, Libellus: On the Beginning of the Order of Preachers, n. 13, 3. 

What is a vocation? 

It 15 the mysterious action of fcivinc grace 

attracting the sou] to Goo, to fino its fulfillment 

ant) fullness of life 

-for which it longs 

in the t>cf>ths 

of Goo's own Mvfstcrw,. 



Sister Marie Tersidis, O.P. 
Lufkin TX 

Part I: Study 

I am so grateful for the gift of my Dominican monastic vocation. I am so glad that I 
belong to a family that has study as one of its first means to achieve the Order's goal. 
Thanks be to God, too, that our holy father Dominic made study an integral and essential 
part of our Dominican family life. In the short time that I have tried to love and treasure what 
Dominic left for our spiritual and human development I have been particularly fascinated by 
the fact that study plays a very important part in the life of the nuns and even more so, in 
that of the Dominican friars. 

I understand study in my Dominican monastic life as a genuine quest to know God, 
and to know the truth about ourselves and the things around us. It is a prayerful thinking 
and communing with God and with one another. It is a light that guides us to true green 
pastures where we discover the best nourishment of our souls. 

I must fall in love with the heritage of our Dominican life as lived by Saint Dominic in 
order to be a happy Dominican. Dominic loved prayer, thinking about the things of God, 
studying the Word of God, and preaching that was a result of his study. A study that flowed 
through prayer into preaching and became useful to other souls. This prayerful meditative 
study transformed Dominic into a Christ-like person. Dominican study is a monastic and 
contemplative activity. The knowledge of God and his truth flavors our contemplation, our 
prayer, our striving for holiness. As we study theology our choral prayer becomes more and 
more meaningful and enriched. We are able to experience the joy and the peace our 
communal prayer brings in the monastery; peace within ourselves and peace with others in 
the community because we form a community of prayer, and hence a community of love. 
So study (an informed communion with God who is loving, compassionate, all powerful, the 
ultimate goal of our lives and seeing the world and everything in relation to God) gives our 
Dominican way of life an intellectual depth distinct from that of other monastic communities. 
Study is one of the primary ascetical practices of a Dominican. It is not an easy exercise; it 
calls for discipline and a great deal of mortification and determination. Like any other way of 
life, we need to work at what makes us who we are and what we are. 

I can testify that, in my own life, prayerful and reflective study has helped me to have 
a greater understanding of my vocation as a child of God, loved into creation, called and 
chosen for a purpose. Study has helped me to realize how loving, caring and merciful God 
is to me and to all his creatures. Study opens the way for self-knowledge in relation to God 
and to neighbor. It gives me a healthy sense of the personal worth that is mine through 
grace and courage and confidence in doing good even when I do not see the fruits of my 
labor. "I thought I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing, and all the while 
my cause was with the Lord" (Is. 49:4 [NAB]). 

Prayerful study has opened the eyes of faith and enabled me to see God's work in 
my life. This informed communion with God has awakened me to a keen realization of how 
wondrously God has been holding me in his hand. It has instilled in me a deep sense of 


gratitude and wonder as I meditate on the story of my vocation. What a joy to know that it is 
all God's doing! 

Study enables me to discover my identity as a child of God. It gives me the 
knowledge of the things of God and presents them to my mind and heart to savor, to 
experience. Then I can to share with others the fruits of this irresistible personal friendship 
with Jesus. Knowledge of God fills the heart with joy and makes the spirit vibrant even in the 
face of trials. It gives a foretaste of divine beauty and a sure hope of beholding the 
goodness and loving-kindness of God. This is a noble vocation. I have to fall in love with it 
and dedicate my life wholeheartedly so that I can have the light of truth to enlighten my path 
to heaven as well as to be a light for others. As Holy Father, Pope John Paul II rightly 
reminds us: "[L]ive to the full your dedication to God, so that this world may never be without 
a ray of divine beauty to lighten the path of human existence." 1 

The grace of contemplation is a free gift of God to us. "Since God then, as the giver 
communes with us through a simple, loving knowledge, the individual also, as the receiver, 
communes with God through a simple and loving knowledge or attention, so that knowledge 
is thus joined with knowledge and love with love." 2 The light of truth contemplated in prayer 
is always illumining souls and winning them to God, directly or indirectly. The Holy Father 
goes on to say: "Yes, your life is more important than ever! In a world that is losing the 
sense of the divine and setting an excessive value on the material, you, dear religious 
women, who in your cloisters are committed to witness to the values you live by, be 
witnesses of the Lord in today's world! By your prayer, infuse a new breath of life into the 
Church and contemporary mankind!" Yes! our life within contemporary society is a powerful 
witness: "[Rjreligious life is more important than ever before because of how we are called 
to face the crisis of our contemporaries. Our life must be an answer to the question: 'What is 
the sense of human life today?' Perhaps this has always been the primary witness of 
religious life." 3 

Fruits of Study 

I have learned from my study and, more importantly, from the examples and the 
witness of my Dominican monastic community, that it is a noble course to strive, to do and to 
be what St. Dominic intended for me and what the Church expects of me. Study has been a 
great help for me to grow in my knowledge and love of God and of St. Dominic and to make 
him my special patron who will intercede for me on my journey to God, who is the ultimate 
goal of my life. Dominic was a man of God who passionately loved God and strove to make 
him known and loved through the witness of a holy life, good works and preaching. The 
Church today calls me to this same dedication to God's transforming grace. "There is a 
need for people able to show the fatherly face of God and the motherly face of the Church, 
people who spend their lives so that others can have life and hope... persons who even 
before committing themselves to the service of this or that noble cause, allow themselves to 
be transformed by God's grace and conform themselves to the Gospel." 4 I need to hear this 
lest I forget or become deaf to the excellence and the nobility of my vocation. This same 
basic element of my life of dedicated union with God is clearly spelled out in our Basic 
Constitutions: "As the Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, offered himself completely for our 
salvation, the nuns consider themselves to be truly his members primarily when they are 
spending themselves totally for souls. 5 

I have had to learn how hard, and yet how rewarding, it is to be spent for others. It is 
only through diligent study of the life of Jesus, of St. Dominic and any of holy men and 


women in history that I find courage to embrace my vocation. It takes prayerful study and 
meditation and great faith to listen and to learn this noble lesson of self-giving to the service 
of God and of neighbor. It is a tedious work and it is a daily employment of a lifetime. But 
knowledge is power. Through it all there is that realization of the grace of God that is poured 
out in abundance. To know that God is calling me to this engagement and that he is there to 
help me gives me courage to continue to aspire and strive to be his good student. 

Part II: Monastic Observances: Rediscovering my real self in the Dominican Monastic 
Way of Life 

Dominican Monastic observances are the essential elements of the life that give it its 
specific shape as intended and lived by St. Dominic. There is in Dominican celebration of 
the Liturgy a certain vigor and vitality. The sacred Liturgy is at the very heart of Dominican 
life. Enclosure and silence make prayer life in common and in private possible. Regular life 
and the vowed life in common create a sacred place where God yearns to dwell and 
commune with his brides. All the customs that make up the rhythm of my life are precious 
means to grow in perfect charity as individuals and as a community. I love the theological 
training of the young and the tradition of on-going formation of the nuns through study and 
sharing of sacred truth. We strive to live here and now the life of the Holy Trinity, the 
overflow of love. And we learn the truth that the way we can tell we are growing in love is 
when we show greater concern for the common good than for our own. I discover in this rich 
tradition the beauty of being a social being, a loving and lovable person. The Church and 
the Dominican Order have given me all I need to be a great saint. All I have to do is to say 
"yes" to this grace. 

The Fruits of Monastic Observances 

Living the life of silence, regularity and the vows gives me a renewed energy to 
pursue my goal of union with God in perfect charity for God and neighbor. Study and prayer 
keep me aware of that constant loving presence of God and what he does in my life. This 
work of grace in my personal relationship with God helps me to understand that God is 
working not only in me, but in everyone in the community and this strengthens my faith and 
love for my vocation and helps me to live an integrated community life as a Dominican nun. 
This reality of God working in me and in my sisters makes me aware of the fact that the 
community, the monastery as a whole, is a sacred place, a house of prayer. It instills in me 
a deep sense of reverence, filial fear and adoration. "The nuns should keep before their 
eyes by day and by night the Lord Jesus..." 6 The monastery is a place where consecrated 
life is nurtured and so ali the observances of our life facilitate our pursuit of holiness as 
individuals and as a community. They make it possible for us to seek to know God so as to 
love him more intimately. 

In living the vowed life in a Dominican monastic family, I have learned a fundamental 
truth: monastic life is about martyrdom. The daily rhythm of this type of life in its ascetical 
and mystical aspects gently and yet firmly brings one to that reality of the Gospel mystery, 
namely dying to self and putting on the new life in Christ. It is a way of life that is 
harmonized in love, a love that entails gradual death. Nevertheless, I find great consolation 
in knowing that in the very process of dying to self in order to be more and more in 
conformity with Christ, I am being sanctified and the work of the salvation of souls is taking 
place. Our prayer life has a tremendous effect in procuring the salvation of souls. Realizing 


that I am a lovable child of God, I also realize that I have been called to a prophetic vocation 
in Christ, to proclaim the mighty deeds of God as he allows me to experience them in my 
life. I find great joy in this school of love. 

The observances of my life challenge me to be creative and attentive to utilize every 
moment of grace in order to grow in love. I have learned not to take my Dominican monastic 
observances lightly. It is through the ordinary fidelity to the way of life set out for me that 
God sanctifies me. The observances have helped me to grow in generosity; openness to 
God's invitations of grace; attentiveness to God's inspiration and to the needs of others; and 
availability and readiness to serve God and my community. 

I am called to imitate St. Dominic and to take the monastic observances and infuse 
every other aspect of my life with them so that all are blended together and produce a 
harmony of life that is holiness of life. Newness of life comes from blending together my 
personal ideal (my sanctification) and the goal of the Dominican Order (the salvation of 

Dominican contemplation is for the good of others as well as for myself. It must flow 
out to benefit others. "To contemplate and to pass on to others the things contemplated." 
The Dominican life with its specific apostolic character is aimed at a profound intimate union 
with God, a union that brings about the salvation of souls. What a daring thing to do! It is a 
call to a radical living of the Gospel values so that God may perform his wonders in my life. 
God opens his arms and invites me to his eternal and everlasting friendship. In faith and 
confidence I chose to leave aside many good things in order to undertake and accomplish 
greater goals in life. In his address to the cloistered religious women in the cathedral of 
Guadalajara, Pope John Paul II said: "I beg you: preserve the simplicity of the 'least' of 
whom the Gospel speaks. Be skilled in finding that simplicity in intimate, profound 
communion with Christ... . Then you will experience through the action of the Holy Spirit, the 
joyful exultation of those who are introduced to the secrets of the kingdom." 7 

This powerful appeal from the Holy Father challenges me to think and reflect. How 
do I see my contemplative life as taking part in the simplicity of the least? First of all I 
believe that the radical following of the poor, chaste and obedient Christ gives me a share in 
the simplicity of the least. The vow of poverty especially gives me a concrete share in the lot 
of the poor. Day after day I learn to be poor in spirit and in truth. If I do not become poor my 
witness to Christ's love for the poor will be empty. The love and support I receive from my 
community, and give to my Sisters, allow me a share in the simplicity of those who seek 
nothing extraordinary but confidently strive to live the ordinary events of daily life in greater 

Rediscovering my True Identity and Mission 

It is the will of the Father that we enter into intimate communion with him. When truly 
united with the Father through Christ; when the Word of God feeds our faith we become 
bread for others. Then we fulfill our mission to do what Christ commissioned the Church: 
"Do this in memory of me." Living the Eucharist, we find fulfillment in all we do because we 
do all to praise God. The liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes 
with the sending forth of the faithful so that they may fulfill God's will in their daily lives. 
Likewise when God works wonders in our lives he sends us forth to practice and proclaim 


what we have received from him; to serve and to love. He asks us to become broken bread 
for our brothers and sisters so that the work of salvation continues throughout the world. 

The hidden fruits of our contemplation are thus extended to others through the 
witness of our lives, and in a more direct way, through the graces that flow from the 
Eucharistic Lord who is the center and the object of our contemplation. The Holy Father, 
quoting the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church says: "Via the Eucharist, the world, too, is 
present at the heart of your life of prayer and sacrifice as the Council has explained. Let no 
one think that religious become alienated from mankind or useless in the earthly city 
because of their consecration. For even though they sometimes do not have direct contact 
with their contemporaries, they are present to them in a deeper way in the heart of Christ.'" 8 
Our intimate union with Christ is a powerful witness to the reality of the life and love of God. 
"In the midst of the Church their growth in charity is mysteriously fruitful ... By their hidden 
life they proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true happiness to be found, here by 
grace and afterwards in glory." 9 The section in our Constitution "On the Following of Christ," 
says: "The nuns first build in their own monasteries the Church of God which they help to 
spread throughout the world by the offering of themselves. They accomplish this by being of 
one mind through obedience, bound together by love of things that are above (cf. Col 3:1) 
through the discipline of chastity and more closely dependent upon one another through 
poverty." 10 Our mission of witnessing to the people of God is, therefore, accomplished by 
our fidelity to what God has called us to be. 

I remember the day I dared to venture my journey to the monastery. How afraid I 
was to face the unexpected! All I knew about monastic life were exaggerated stories which 
had some truth in them, but they mostly terrified me. Nevertheless God calls and gives the 
grace to embrace the call. I came in ready to take the "rigid observances" on my shoulders, 
confident that God would never let me down. He has been true to his love. He has softened 
my frozen inner-self and has opened up to me a rich and noble rhythm of life that is the best 
way for me to achieve salvation. It is a way of life untouched by rigidity. 

Part III: Community Life 

Ours is a way of life shared in common in which we are bound together in love 
through our religious profession of vows. We have one and the same vocation: "to press 
forward to that perfect love of God and neighbor which is effective in caring for and obtaining 
the salvation of all people." 11 We are called to pursue the same goal, and are given the 
same means to achieve the goal. God has called us to form a family of love, a community of 
faith-filled friends, a people of hope and expectation of the things of higher values. We are 
commissioned to spread this incredible encounter with God within our own monastery, and 
the overflow of this reality spreads to the ends of the world. The very existence of our life is 
a great testimony to the reality of God. Our Constitutions tell us: "The whole life of the nuns 
is harmoniously ordered to preserving the continual remembrance of God." 12 In the words 
of Pope John Paul II: "In community life, then, it should in some way be evident that, more 
than an instrument for carrying out a specific mission, fraternal communion is a God- 
enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the Risen Lord." 13 

Our community life is a source of strength and support for us. It is a source of 
strength for ourselves in our trials, temptations and moments of disappointments. It is also a 
source of life, vigor, enthusiasm, inspiration and joy for each of us. But that does not 
happen in a miraculous fashion; we have to work at it. We must make good use of the 


special means we have been given to lead us on our journey of faith and build up a strong, 
loving and faith-filled community capable of enabling us to achieve the ultimate goal, toward 
which we press with joy and certitude: union with God. Our rule of life strongly urges us to 
strive for this goal with passionate love. We are asked to press onward to that perfection of 
love of God and neighbor, meaning that we save our souls in the service of others, a service 
of love. 

In the Rule of St. Augustine, we constantly come across his appeal for unity, 
harmony and charity. He exalts the need for harmonious and fraternal charity without 
neglecting the monastic regular observances which help us to grow in charity. Both the 
ascetical and mystical aspects of our vocation and mission are harmonized in love. The 
observances of our life are wonderful tools that create harmony and unity in the community. 
They produce a tempered mind that leads to thinking before speaking. They help us to be 
prudent and discerning in conversation. They create an analytical mind to help us get into 
the heart of matters. All this can only come through quiet reflection and prayerful thinking, 
facilitated by a happy communal life, withdrawal, silence, prayer and study. 

Our community life calls us to acquire a contemplative attitude as taught by the 
Church herself, whose teaching we receive daily in our celebration of the Liturgy, especially 
the Mass. To live in Christ, with Christ, and act through Christ by the power of the Holy 
Spirit, is contemplation par excellence. There is no better teacher, no better source of 
contemplation than God himself. 

I find in community life a great source of spiritual strength, especially in times of 
loneliness and trials. The community gives me the experience of God's presence through 
the loving care and prayerful support of my Sisters. I have also been tremendously enriched 
by the faith-sharing moments the community offers, especially when sisters spontaneously 
share their faith, the fruits of their studies and contemplation, either in recreation or in small 
study groups. There are so many ways we bless one another in community without even 
realizing it. We enrich one another through the diversity of talents and spiritual energies of 
generosity and fidelity that each member of the community contributes to the common good 
for the greater glory of God. As we allow God to speak to us, to form us, to convert us into 
good listeners, good students and good stewards of His Word, we form a community of love, 
a house of prayer, where people come and find hope and meaning in human life. 

Part IV: Conclusion 

The Church spurs us on to greater fervor, a deeper commitment in every aspect of 
our lives, both ascetical and mystical. We cannot separate the means from the goal nor can 
we treat lightly the means which help us to grow in our union with God. All work together for 
the good of the whole person, creating a harmony of life. The means are one with the goal. 
They are a limited expression of the goal - limited in the sense that they are subject to 
change or can be modified, whereas the goal remains unchanged. For example, an act of 
charity done to this or that person is not the fullness of charity. Nevertheless, repeated acts 
of charity, purified through a greater intensity of love of God, lead us to perfect charity. But it 
all starts with a simple cooperation with the grace of the moment. The observances facilitate 
an atmosphere in which charity increases in intensity. Thus, they are subordinate ends to 
the ultimate end of, "perfect love of God and neighbor which is effective in caring for and 
obtaining the salvation of all people." 15 


This is the truth we seek, the truth we desire to behold, experience, teach, and 
manifest by the witness of our enclosure, common life, prayer and study. This is so rich a 
life, it draws those who yearn for intimate union with God to dedicate their entire lives in 
seeking Christ in such a wholehearted way: to freely and deliberately choose special means; 
the vows, community life, structured life, solitude, fidelity to liturgical and personal prayer - all 
ascetical practices for the sake of the building up of the kingdom of God on earth. Our Holy 
Father John Paul II considers the witnessing of our religious and community life as a very 
important element of our vocation. "Consecrated life itself is a mission, as was the whole of 
Jesus' life... Indeed, more than in external works, the mission consists in making Christ 
present to the world through personal witness... The more consecrated persons allow 
themselves to be conformed to Christ the more Christ is made present and active in the 
world for the salvation of all." 16 And we can also add, "Both for the individual and for the 
Church, consecrated life is a value in itself apart from the sacred ministry." 17 

I close with beautiful words of wisdom taken from St. Edith Stein that I keep on my 
desk: "Our holy Role and Constitutions are for us the expression of Divine will. To sacrifice 
personal inclinations for their sake is to participate in the sacrifice of Christ. To conform as 
well to the unwritten customs of the house and the preference of the community is 
demanded by love. If we do all this in order to give the Heart of Jesus joy, it is not a 
restriction but the highest activity of freedom, a free gift of bridal love." 

















Vita consecrata, # 1 09 

The Pope Speaks, Vol. 36, # 4 (1991) 

Sing A New Song, Timothy Radcliffe, 0. P., 210 -211 

Vita consecrata, # 1 05 

Fundamental Constitution of the Nuns 1. II 

LCM, Book of Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers), 74. I 

The Pope Speaks, vol. 24 # 3 (1979), 212 

The Holy Father, quoting the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church # 46 

"Fundamental Constitution of the Nuns," LCM # V 

LCM Section 1 : The following of Christ; 3, ii 

Fundamental Constitutions of The Nuns 1. II 

LCM 74, IV 

Vita consecrata, # 42 

LCM 99 

Vita consecrata, # 60 

Ibid., #72 

Ibid., #60 

In tfie Ru/e of St Augustine 

we eonstantfg eome aeross 

/its appeaffor unity, fiannoni/ 




Sr. Mary Regina, O.P. 
Lufkin, TX 

An Obscure Constellation 

A small group of friends were admiring the stars one very clear evening. The great 
Orion was in the east and as they were expounding its myths, a little girl in the group was 
fascinated by a tiny blue dipper lying more northwest than Orion. "What is this little blue 
dipper called?" she asked. "Oh, you mean the Little Dipper." "No," she said, "I mean this tiny 
blue dipper there," pointing enthusiastically at her discovery. "It is so tiny that it fits in the 'O' 
that I make with my thumb and first finger!" "That is the Pleiades," answered her 
grandmother, "they are the seven little sisters." Then in a tone of whispered awe she said, 
"And one is missing!" 

The Pleiades is the loveliest of the constellations. None of the others has excited 
more interest than this enchanting cluster of tiny blue stars. Poets of all ages and cultures - 
including Homer and the Bible - have sung its praises. Tennyson compared the Pleiades to 
"a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid." Men of fancy have thought of them as bees or 
as a rosette of blue diamonds. The inspired writer declares, "It is He who made the Pleiades 
and Orion." 1 

Most observers can see six stars in the cluster and those with good vision will spot 
seven. Actually, these seven stars belong to a constellation of thousands of stars. A cosmic 
"fog" surrounds the cluster which adds to their mystery and, no doubt, to the folklore that has 
built up around them. It is worthwhile to view this stellar beauty through binoculars. 

Myths have surrounded St. Dominic and his Order almost from the beginning. Myths 
about saints, unlike stellar myths, always contain a grain of truth that becomes embellished 
with time. The founding of the Nuns of the Dominican Order is no exception. Some 
accounts attribute their founding to Bishop Diego who left the project to Dominic as the 
bishop was returning to Osma. 

The oldest accounts agree for the most part and run thus: 

In 1206, after Dominic's preaching the truths of the faith with such firm conviction, 
nine noble ladies came to him one evening while he was at prayer. They implored him to 
help them to understand the error of the sect that they had so ardently followed. St. Dominic 
consoled these ladies by asking them to pray with him for their enlightenment, for God did 
not wish the loss of anyone. As they prayed a horrible beast appeared and terrorized the 
ladies who understood that this was the symbol of the error by which they had been 
deceived. They gave themselves immediately to St. Dominic to be his associates. 

Soon after this, St. Dominic prayed one evening on an elevation outside Fanjeaux. 
His request was to be enlightened as to the means and place to establish these good 
women and his companions. It was at this time that he experienced a remarkable vision, the 
Signadou. He took his plan and vision to Bishop Diego who agreed that it was admirable: St. 
Dominic proceeded to found at Prouille the first Monastery of Dominican Nuns. 


Prouille! What a lovely name! It is French for plura Mia, "many lilies." St. Dominic 
began the work for building the monastery in August and it was finished in November. The 
building was of cheap materials in keeping with the poverty our founder had in mind for his 
Order. Later he saw that such a building would not hold up under the heavy rains of 
Southern France and had it replaced with a building of stone. The Nuns took possession of 
their new abode on November 22, 1206, feast of St. Cecilia, and were formally enclosed on 
December 27 th of the same year. From this small beginning of nine converted women, 
together with two noble Catholic ladies who were under St. Dominic's direction, a community 
was formed, and increased to thirty-three within five years. Swarms of "fire flies" would leave 
this first home to carry the light of truth to many other beginnings. 

Like the Pleiades, the nuns' branch of the Dominican Order is obscure, that is, not as 
well known as are other contemplative orders. Their canonized saints number three (not 
seven) but there are nine nuns beatified and several more being proposed. Actually, the 
seventh star of the Pleiades is not missing but is so much farther from the earth than the 
other six that only a sharp eye can detect it. The nuns' vocation is to be hidden even within 
their Order. It is the Friars who must be in the public eye, dispelling the errors of our time 
with their preaching. It is for the nuns to pray for the success of their preaching and for the 
receptivity of those who hear them. 

St. Dominic founded two other monasteries: one in Madrid and another in Rome. He 
began a foundation in Bologna which was finished by Jordan of Saxony. The Order and its 
monasteries spread rapidly throughout Europe. By 1277, Bernard Gui counted fifty-eight 
monasteries, a rather accurate list, with forty in Germany alone, and six of these located 
around Strasbourg. 

The kind of life that was lived in the early monasteries is wrapped in a "fog" but it is 
thought that, at least by 1216, St. Dominic gave his nuns the Rule of St. Augustine and the 
same Constitutions that were approved for the Friars. In spite of multiple myths to the 
contrary, the life of the first monastery was strictly contemplative. The sisters engaged in 
educational or apostolic work only by exception in individual cases. St. Dominic had secured 
lands and revenues for the sisters so that they did not have to work to support themselves. 
In 1215, Innocent III gave them greater security when he took the monastery and its 
possessions under the protection of the Holy See. In 1218, Honorius III confirmed this and 
granted his full canonical approval. 

The nuns were to pursue the perfection of charity in keeping with the Rule and 
Constitutions. The main difference between the Constitutions of the nuns and of the friars 
was that manual labor replaced apostolic preaching. The nuns were devoted to the Divine 
Office and to monastic observances; they took solemn vows. St. Dominic in his personal 
letter to one of the monasteries encouraged silence in particular, as well as prayer and 
fasting. He gave the white habit, black cope and black veil to his nuns. The scapular was not 
added until it was received by Blessed Reginald from our Lady. 

St. Dominic frequently gave spiritual lectures to his nuns when near a monastery. It 
is in this respect that many myths have sprung up. Perhaps some of them have a grain of 
truth, for example: the story of his serving both the nuns and friars, from one cup, a good 
wine which did not diminish as it made the rounds more than once. This particular incident of 
a cup of wine never diminishing is an apt symbol of the Order. Wine symbolizes charity, the 
bond of unity between the different branches of the Order, and it gives an insight into St. 


Dominic's spirit that he wished to bestow on all Dominicans. The Constitutions open with the 
call to the love of God and one another. 

Let us finish this section by noting the fact that today Dominican nuns number over 
4,000 2 spread throughout the world. The Nuns and even some of our saints are hidden from 
popular knowledge, as is the rosette of lovely blue diamonds in the night sky. They are there 
just the same, praying for the salvation of souls. 

II. A "Red" Planet 

Just as it is difficult to find the Pleiades, on occasion it is equally difficult to find a 
beautiful red jewel that enhances the beauty of the night sky. This is the planet Mars. Every 
seventeen years the orbit of Mars is very close to ours and at this time the planet is almost 
as large as Venus or Sirius. As the orbit moves out it can appear as a small red dot and can 
often be found a little west of Orion near the star Aldebaran and often mistaken for it, 
Aldebaran being of an orange/red color. Because of its red color, folklore named this planet 
after the god of war. The red was a symbol of the blood of warriors. 

The Dominican sky has a valiant warrior in St. Peter Martyr 3 who shed his blood for 
Christ. His weapon was preaching the truth of the Gospel against the Cathars. This sect was 
a revival of the old Manichean heresy, the headache and heartache of St. Augustine. 

The planet Mars has dramatic, even fantastic, highs and lows on its surface. Its 
tallest mountain, Mount Olympus, is fifteen miles high, three times taller than Mount Everest. 
Its Grand Canyon would stretch across the entire United States and is three to four miles 
deep. When standing on the rim of one side of the canyon the other side can hardly be seen, 
so wide is it. Yet the planet itself is only about one half as large as ours. 

The highs and lows in the life of our warrior Saint were as dramatic and fantastic as 
those of Mars. Peter was born into a family of ardent heretics. Divine Providence intervened 
and arranged that Peter's father sent him to an excellent Catholic school to learn the 
rudiments of grammar. His parents reasoned that they would be able to destroy later any 
Christian ideas that Peter might acquire. But Peter's ardent spirit advanced rapidly in his 
studies and he was devoted to goodness and truth. 

On Mars, there is little water known, but there are fierce dust storms on its surface. 
The dust is often six miles high and covers the whole planet, being whipped by a wind of 124 
miles per hour. The first high-velocity storm in Peter's life seems to have come from his 
uncle. This stubborn heretic stopped Peter on his way home from school and asked what he 
was learning. Peter replied with enthusiasm, "The Apostles' Creed!" and forthwith recited it 
for him with great devotion. His uncle was infuriated and demanded that his father remove 
Peter from the Christian school. Peter's father neither punished nor removed him. Thus, 
Peter's life of Christian witness began with the Credo and ended with the Credo written in his 
own blood. 

At the age of fifteen, Peter was sent to the University of Bologna for his higher 
education. He successfully avoided all the temptations of the wild side of University life by 
giving himself to prayer and mortification. Divine Providence brought St. Dominic to Bologna 
in 1221 and Peter heard his preaching. Peter was enamored with Dominic's passionate love 
of truth and his desire for the salvation of souls through preaching the Word. Peter longed to 


become one of his followers. Encouraged by the example of some of his fellow students and 
Masters he gave himself to Dominic. The founder, seeing the treasure God had sent him, 
clothed Peter with the habit and sent him to be trained for the priesthood. 

As we have said, Mount Olympus on Mars is fifteen miles high. In the Dominican 
Order, Peter was to soar to great heights in learning and sanctity. The spirit of the founder 
was natural to him and Peter gave himself fervently to imitating him. But St. Dominic was 
already worn out and very ill. He would die soon at Bologna and Peter would be one of those 
who would receive his dying blessing. 

The snow-capped terrain around the south pole of Mars is like a series of ninety foot 
steps descending downward from its center. Peter had large steps to climb in his novitiate 
days, but with great love he embraced the observances. In his mind the severe fasts, vigils, 
solitude and other mortifications enjoined by the rule were stepping stones to heaven. Like 
most young men in their late teens, Peter became carried away and did many private 
penances not prescribed by the rule and without the permission of his confessor. As a 
consequence, his health began to fail. He then realized his mistake and thereafter he 
observed only the penances prescribed by the rule and his confessor. His obedience to his 
superiors was exceptional. 

Trials were to beset Peter to prove his virtue and strengthen him for Our Lord's 
battle. The trial recorded, and made much of, is that of false accusations by his own brethren 
against his vow of chastity. The brethren had mistaken the light and angelic voices coming 
from Peter's cell to be those of women. The trial was overwhelming for Peter and he took his 
sorrow before the crucifix, asking why he was allowed such a trial. Our Lord answered Peter; 
"And what have I done to be abused and tormented like this? Learn from Me to bear wrongs 
with patience." Peter learned his lesson well. The "lows," the trials, would be many 
throughout his life but he accepted them in union with Christ for His church. 

Peter's apostolate was so successful that his preaching and miracles drew 
thousands and converted so many from the ranks of the heretics that the leaders wished to 
silence him. Death was the only answer as all else had failed. They employed a criminal 
named Carino to take charge of the plot. Carino and his companions moved to Como where 
Peter was prior and attended Mass in the friars' chapel each day. By this means they 
learned from the Porter that Peter was going to Milan on Easter Saturday. Peter had 
forewarned his community of the day of his death and of the sum that would be paid to kill 

Peter had often prayed, especially at Mass, to shed his blood like Christ for the 
Church. This was a special gift of Grace for Peter. Many desire the glory of being a martyr 
without its being a gift to them personally. For some the motive is vainglory. Others, like St. 
Dominic, desire to be more like Our Lord in every detail of His life and for a pure motive. God 
alone determines who will receive this Gift and with the Gift the Fortitude to endure it 

On the appointed day, St. Peter with Brother Dominic, a lay-brother, who would also 
be martyred, and two other friars, set out for Milan. At about noon, Peter sent these other 
two to a nearby farm house for lunch while he and Brother Dominic went to a nearby 
convent. After lunch and a little rest, the Saint and Brother Dominic set out again, thinking 
that the other two brethren would soon catch up with them. As they approached the place of 
ambush, one of the assassins, Albertino, horrified at the intended crime, threw down his 


weapon and fled. Meeting the other two Friars, he warned them of the impending deed, and 
they hastened in hope of saving their beloved Prior. They were too late. 

The assassin Carino, infuriated by the desertion of his comrade, Albertino, sprang 
upon Peter and struck his head with a powerful blow. In great agony, Peter slowly sank to 
the ground. Carino then turned on the terror stricken Brother Dominic and fatally wounded 
him several times. The instrument seems to have been a pruning knife. Turning to flee, 
Carino saw Peter writing the Credo on the ground with his own blood. Seeing that he was 
still alive, Carino ran his weapon through the Saint's chest. The other two Friars arrived at 
the scene and found Peter dead and Brother Dominic agonizing. Carino was being held by a 
farmer who had witnessed the whole crime. Thus the first martyr among St. Dominic's sons, 
filled with the wine of charity, gained the crown that Dominic himself had so desired. It was 
April 6,1252. 

The red soil of Mars, which is predominantly rusting iron, causes this planet to shine 
like a magnificent ruby in the night sky. St. Peter's blood bore fruit in the conversion of his 
assassin Carino, who later entered the Dominican Order as a Lay Brother and led a very 
holy life. St. Peter Martyr shines as a glorious ruby in the galaxy of Dominican Saints. He 
was canonized on March 25, 1253, adding luster to the whole Church. 

Amos 5:8 {Liturgy of the Hours v. 4, p. 742). 

Dominicaines moniales de I'Ordre des Precheurs, a publication of the French monasteries, 1993. 
On pp.36 -37, the number of nuns is listed as 4,295 world wide. [The current number is about 3000. 

Dominican Saints by Dominican Novices (Rockford: Tan Pubs., 1921). 

Prouiffel What a fovefij name! It is French for yfura fifia, 

"many fides. " 

...The nuns took possession of their new abode 

on November 22, 1206,foastofSt. Cecida, 

and were actuaffy enclosed on December 27 of the same year. 

Swarms of "Jire-jfies" woufd feave thisjirst home 

to carry the fight of truth 

to many other beginnings. 


To the New World 

Sister Mary Regina, O.P. 
Langley, BC, Canada 

God works incredible grace in the hearts of missionary preachers in every time and 
circumstance. His work of sanctity and missionary service during the "age of discovery," 
roughly 1450 to 1650, was abundant in a large group of Dominican Friars Preachers and 
Franciscan Friars who crossed the ocean from Spain to the New World. During this time of 
conquest on the part of the Spanish and Portuguese, who exploited the Indians, God was at 
work in the missionaries whose deeds were marvelous and courageous. The example of 
these missionary preachers would have an impact on slavery and other human rights issues 
up to our own day and time. 

Ferdinand V of Castile and Isabella I of Aragon 

Every country evolves, and Spain was no exception. There are interesting facts that 
cannot be overlooked if we are to place Spain in the context of the New World. Prior to the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain consisted of territories that had their own rulers. 
For example, Castile was a kingdom and Aragon another. The marriage of Ferdinand of 
Castile and Isabella of Aragon changed the face of the land and paved the way for Spain's 
Siglo de Oro ("The Golden Age of Spain"). It has been said about Spain that it was: 
"created by the Empire, rather than the Empire being created by Spain." 1 

The marriage of Isabella with Ferdinand was a brilliant union that literally changed 
the course of history. The Reyes Catolicos (Catholic Kings) "created a confederation of 
reigns, each with their own administrations, but ruled by a common monarch." 2 The 
"common monarch," of course, was: Ferdinand and Isabella. This was unique in that 
Ferdinand was not "the" ruler while Isabella sat meekly at his side. On the contrary, they 
were rulers of their own former territories but on other fronts they spoke as one person. 

The year 1492 unfolded into one of momentous historic change. In that year, Spain 
drove out the Moorish king of Granada, resulting in more power and homeland territory for 
the Empire. These events were gateway steps to the next incident. The monarchs 
negotiated with Christopher Columbus, a sailor from Genoa who wanted royal backing for 
his desire to sail to Asia by sailing west. The King and Queen could not resist the possibility 
of the discovery of an easier route to the Orient. The rest is history, but this time forged in a 
failure: Christopher Columbus did indeed find a land far off and rich enough to lure those 
countries avid for discovery, possession, and riches. But Instead of discovering the western 
route to China, he discovered the New World! 

Christopher Columbus 

When Christopher Columbus reached the Caribbean on November 12, 1492, he 
landed first on the island of San Salvador, an island of the central Bahamas in the West 
Indies. Soon he discovered Cuba and the other islands, commenting, "The beauty of these 
islands surpassed that of any other and as much as the day surpasses the night in 
splendor." On December 5, 1492, he reached what is now Haiti and the Dominican 
Republic. The site is just a few miles from the southern tip of Cuba, where the Windward 


Passage separates the Caribbean Sea and the 
North Atlantic Waters. He named the island "La 
Isla Espanola," which the Spaniards, who arrived 
shortly afterwards, renamed Hispaniola. The 
native Tainos (good people) tribe greeted 
Columbus favorably. These natives came out of 
a flourishing Arawak nation whose origin goes 
back to the Amazon Valley settlers in 900 A.D. 
Columbus came face to face with everything 
good - an ideal situation. The friendly Indians 
cultivated corn, wove cotton and baskets, worked 
in pottery and carved furniture. Best of all, they 
were friendly and hospitable. 1 So, what went 

"The year 1992, which marked the quincentenary of Columbus's first voyages to the 
Americas, spawned an enormous amount of discussion about the significance of his 
voyages." 3 This 1992 anniversary brought study, debate and inquiry together in order to 
establish essential and trusted facts on the discovery of the Americas. Columbus was a 
product of his time, a man of character on one front, proud to represent Ferdinand and 
Isabella, but, it is sad to say, a man who also enslaved and killed many Indians. His was 
just the beginning of endless slaughter perpetrated against the natives of the New World. 

CUBA ! & (Seta Tonne 






.M.jic .Hmcfce 

lie On i.t Gon&rt 


v Hispaniola 



Los Caycs. 




€<r ' , ■ : ■ S HI 

<! SI} 68 isn 

The entire approach on the part of Columbus and the European conquistadores 
(conquerors) was made in the name of Christianity, paving the way for Spanish Dominican 
involvement. Fortunately for the natives, the captains, governors, viceroys and soldiers 
from Spain, Columbus insisted on, or at least agreed to, bringing along priests -- 
Dominicans and others. These became the voice of the people and for the people of the 
New World. These valiant missionary preachers were relentless, as we shall see, in 
speaking the truth about the inhuman and unjust treatment inflicted on the indigenous 
peoples of the Americas by the same authorities who brought the preachers to evangelize. 
The Dominicans hold a special place of honor and prestige in the defense of the Indians. 
They worked long and hard, prayed with the people, taught and preached the Gospel with 
heroic courage, and yes, some were martyred. 

At this time, Western Europe had the fastest ships with the best navigators. We 
must remember that Columbus did not sail the seas by chance. True, much was guesswork, 
but he invested years, in fact most of his life, in the study of ships, navigation, geography, 
mathematics and astronomy. Furthermore, the many centuries of war on European soil 
created new technology, hardened the people to suffering and produced the potential for 
brutality. 4 The Protestant Revolution would soon experience success with Martin Luther in 
Germany and the other religious revolts festering in parts of Europe. Still, at the time of 
conquest, there was one unified Church, and this Catholic Church traveled the seas to 
evangelize the nations. The time was ripe. Spain had pushed back the Moors and she 
"was unified, looking for power and greatness." 5 


Before advancing to the actual lives and witness of the Dominican missionary 
preachers, a word must be said about anthropology. Anthropology studies people and 


culture and why culture changes. Life at its natural and basic level is concerned with 
survival. The First Major Change in culture occurred with the craftsmanship and use of 
stone. The Second Major Change came with the discovery and use of fire. The Third Major 
Change in culture came with the development of farming and the domestication of animals. 
"The Fourth Major Change [happened] when European cultures began to explore and 
conquer the peoples in other regions of the world." 6 This fourth change is precisely what 
caused the incessant voyages between Old and New Spain. Obviously there were further 
reasons: the acquisition of plants, spices and animals not native to Europe. But the greater 
greed was for silver, gold, and slaves, and to attain these no effort was spared. But the 
appalling result was the near annihilation of the natives and their culture. Ninety-five 
percent of the natives died from the conquest, leaving a small five-percent for slavery. 7 It 
was for the sake of these that the Dominican missionary preachers laid down their lives. 
They worked strenuously, too, on behalf of the Spaniards who colonized: "Refute falsehood, 
correct error, give encouragement -- but do all with patience and with care to instruct." 8 We 
cannot conclude that conquest is a worthy end in itself. Humanity can advance and 
anthropological development can occur through conquest, but if it is without a moral base, 
an inevitable crushing of humanity follows. The Dominicans of Spain were in the vanguard 
of moral good, preaching that justice alone gives peace, and offering the salvation of Jesus 
Christ which alone saves men and women alike. 

Not all the Spaniards were unscrupulous. Examples of goodness appear in every 
stratum of people who ventured to these new and far off lands. One example is Judge 
Alonso de Zorita who arbitrated between the Spaniards and the natives. It is written of him: 
"His great integrity and goodness gained him the admiration and affection of the Indians, the 
viceroy, and the regular clergy. The respect and love the Indians felt for the aging, infirm, 
and overworked Zorita was well-deserved, for he defended the prestige of authority 'with the 
least possible severity' and maintained justice equally among both Spaniards and Indians." 9 
It cannot be stated too much that this layman listened and learned from the Friars so intently 
that their cause for the Indians became his cause. Through the magnificent work, letters 
and other heroic efforts of men like him and like Bartolome de Las Casas, Archbishop Juan 
de Zumarraga and many others, the Crown of Spain appointed bishops, friars and also 
civilians as protectors of the Indians. Still, in the end, their efforts failed and nations along 
with their cultures were obliterated. 

The Dominican Missionary Preachers 
I speak for all of my brothers. 

Dominicans did not land on the island of Hispaniola 10 until 1510. This was eighteen 
years after its discovery, and the Spanish conquistadors by this time had enslaved the 
Indians full-scale. Abuse was everywhere, and the situation seemed to bother no one's 
conscience. From a Dominican missionary preaching band, two names have surfaced. The 
superior of the group was Pedro of Cordova. This wise man knew his community, and the 
Dominican friars realized in the depths of their hearts and consciences that they could not 
sit back and be complacent about the terrible atrocities perpetrated against the Indians. 
Their first preaching was in their witness of love, solidarity and ministry to Spaniards and to 
Indians alike. The Indians became the special objects of their care because of their 
suffering and because of the gift of mercy so prominent in Dominican spirituality. The 
Dominican community has given witness in history to their faith in God and to their belief 


that all men and women are made in the image of God and should be paid equal respect. 
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, one year after their arrival, the moment came when Peter 
of Cordova and his Dominican community knew they could not and would not be silent any 
longer. They decided to approach the situation in this way: they would speak the truth 
openly in the pulpit, without mincing words. 

Antonio de Montesinos was chosen to preach that Sunday. He was a giant of 
courage in the homily he delivered after the Gospel: "You are no better than Moors and 
Turks, you who starve and beat and rob and oppress the Indians! I cannot promise you 
salvation any more than I could promise it to the Moors and the Turks." Sitting in the pews 
were the upper crust and Spanish elite on the island. Everyone sat in dead shock. No one 
had told them, apparently, that they were altogether wrong in their erroneous belief that the 
Indians were less than human and did not have rights. Now without any doubt, they knew. 
It was boomed from the pulpit, it was shouted aloud. The Dominican community was as 
brave as Montesinos. Every word he spoke was their own: history tells us that the 
community had prepared the sermon together and had simply selected Montesinos to 
preach this common message. 11 

The congregation objected in an uproar and furious conversations and condemna- 
tion were hurled at the Friars. The Spaniards approached the superior Pedro de Cordova to 
ask Montesinos to recant. The Dominican community met and made their decision. The 
following Sunday, Antonio de Montesinos once again gathered his courage to address the 
congregation: "I speak for all my brethren; you who hold Indian slaves and mistreat them will 
henceforth be refused absolution in the confessional. One does not give absolution to 
unrepentant highway robbers. Neither shall we give it to you." 12 

This was just the beginning of the Dominican missionary preaching in the New 
World. The noise of protest reached the ears of the Crown. The Friars were on the line 
both on the island and back in Spain. The reprisals were many and great. Meanwhile, God 
was wonderfully at work to show His approval and loving kindness. There was a young man 
from Spain on the island, a priest who himself owned slaves. His name was Bartolome de 
las Casas. He treated his slaves well, but all the same, his conscience was pricked and his 
heart greatly moved. Jean Dorcy states it quite well: "Point by point, he fought the uncom- 
fortable doctrine, and once he was refused absolution for his views. Eventually, he was to 
lay down his arms and ask for and receive the Dominican habit; then he himself was to 
become one of the greatest champions the Indians ever had." 13 

A doctrine was entering once more into people's consciousness, a doctrine estab- 
lished from the foundation of the world. A truth long forgotten or neglected was being 
proclaimed from the pulpit, in the sacraments, on the streets of Hispaniola and throughout 
the Spanish empire, an uncompromising call to respect and accept the sanctity of every 
person's life. Could it have been full-scale avarice that crept into the human spirit all these 
long centuries since the Incarnation of the Son of Man? What had deadened people's 
minds and consciences to the sanctity of life on every level of human existence? These 
were the wrenching questions the Dominicans grappled with day and night, while living not 
in the grand mansion the Spaniards offered them, but in the same kind of simple dwelling as 
the Indians. They knew first hand about the humble, generous and trustful spirit of the 
Tainos people of the island. 


Everyone had recourse to the Crown. Montesinos and Cordova were summoned by 
the Council of the Indies in Spain to report on their conduct. The King, too, heard their 
voice. The convincing position of the Friars moved him to action to improve the condition of 
the Indians. There were still cruelties, but out of this encounter he imposed some restriction 
upon the Spaniards. 

Meanwhile, help was on the way from more than King and council. The Friars on 
mission to Hispaniola had been members of the Dominican convent of San Esteban, in 
Salamanca, Spain. This distinctive institution was a bastion of learning and moral theology. 
Now it would become the birthplace of international law. Something strong and solid had to 
be said about the practice of slavery. Slavery had hardly begun with the Spaniards, the 
Portuguese or any other nation: it had been a household practice for thousands of years. 
The rights of people in many other aspects of life also were being trampled upon, but this 
had become especially true in the age of new discovery and the conquest of nations. 

The nations at large needed a wake-up call. It came in the person of Francisco de 
Vitoria, a friar and theologian at the Salamanca convent. Again one Dominican friar spoke 
in the name of a group of friars who studied the problem of slavery and abuse in depth in 
the light of what had recently happened in Hispaniola. This time it was Vitoria who spoke 
out in the name of all his Dominican brother theologians. Stated briefly: Every man and 
woman without exception has rights. Those who conquer have obligations to the 
human race, to people. All is not fair in war and conquest. In their study "the 
Salamanca theologians followed faithfully the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas on the 
concept of law in general and of the natural law in particular." 14 The moral good and the 
right to freedom and dignity must be safeguarded. 

While it is true to say that the Dominican community at Salamanca collaborated with 
Vitoria, at the same time, Francisco de Vitoria stands out on his own unique merit. He is 
rightly addressed as the founder and father of international law, and remains a figure whom 
nations respect and whose philosophy and teaching on human rights is upheld and 
practiced. Where it is not, there is a breach in international law, a law openly accepted by 
every country today, including the United Nations. This was the legacy given to humanity by 
a group of Dominicans and one outstanding, learned and courageous Dominican friar, 
Francisco de Vitoria. 

One more point must be made in regard to Vitoria and the Salamancan Dominicans: 
Dominican missionary preachers sent from Salamanca to Hispaniola and other mission 
posts were the ones "sent." But the founding house at Salamanca participated just as much 
in the missionary work, though in a different fashion than those sent. Together they 
collaborated in an enormous work of the Church and the Order. 

I am the Good Shepherd. 

A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Jn 10:11 

The convent of friars in Hispaniola also sent Dominican missionary preachers to 
other places in the new world at this time. Every one of the Friars lived a heroic life. They 
kept the strict observance, which would have meant much fasting. Travel was dangerous, 
arduous, and generally on foot. Their disciplined way of life would also entail night Office 
and a full schedule of prayer. Furthermore, as has already been stated, they opted for poor 


dwellings and long hours of apostolic labor. An ordinary day was a laying down of one's life. 
Another way of laying down one's life was through martyrdom. 

Perhaps the best known martyr is Luis de Cancer, who was sent from Hispaniola to 
the newly erected convent of Santo Domingo in Guatemala. The Quiche Indians, a rebel 
group, had been warned to beware of the white men and the cruelty they imposed. The 
Spaniards found this tribe unconquerable. The "Land of War" became another name for 
Guatemala and its natives. Luis de Cancer had utilized his gift for languages and song to 
convert Indians before. Once he mastered the language, not an easy task in itself, he 
procured promises from the conquistadores not to disturb the Indians while they were being 
evangelized. Then he sharpened his musical talent to set the words of his message of 
salvation to the wood flute and drums which the Quiche loved so much, creating a beating, 
pulsing blend of rhyme and rhythm. He could count himself extremely fortunate that the 
fierce and determined natives did not immediately martyr him. His efforts were so 
successful that throngs of Indians were converted, causing the missionaries to rename 
"Land of War" Vera Paz, "Land of Peace." However, the Spanish soldiers broke their word, 
stormed the hills, captured the people for slavery, and the newly named territory became a 
land of tears and sorrow. 

Meanwhile Luis de Cancer made two moves: a trip to Spain to procure permission to 
establish a mission in Florida, and one to Mexico to recruit volunteers for his next heroic and 
seemingly impossible mission. Indeed, the Guatemala experience was just an easy 
"novitiate" in evangelization compared to the impossible task of converting the natives of 
Florida. No one dared step on the sand of that peninsula. The story becomes detailed 
here, but to summarize: the missionaries made ordinary attempts to make themselves 
known to the Indians, without success. They tried again, but as the ship neared land the 
crew and the missionaries decided not to dock. Luis de Cancer bravely dove into the water 
and swam to shore in the hope that this one lucky chance could be the salvation of 
countless Indians. Perhaps it was, but not in the way he usually expressed his gifts of 
nature and grace. Immediately a band of Indians rushed upon him and murdered the 
humble, loving Dominican friar. He had willingly laid down his life for his sheep. He had 
always been so lucky, and did his luck fail him now? Not at all if you consider that he had 
gained an everlasting crown of glory for himself, and the grace of God, which we cannot 
fathom, for the people of the land on which his blood was shed. 

There were two other martyrs of the West Indies at this time; other Dominican 
missionaries who were also good shepherds of the flock. Not much is known of Domingo 
De Vico and Andres Lopez. Both came from Spain, doing ministry somewhere near 
Guatemala. The Indians killed them in ambush, taking them by total surprise. 

Not all who laid down their life for the missions became martyrs in the literal sense. 
Yet each Dominican spent his entire energy for the sake of the natives, the conquistadors 
and the mission. Among these were Bartolome Mateo, nine Dominican priests and one 
Dominican lay brother who died at sea en route to Florida. Had they landed on the Florida 
soil, there is little doubt they, too, would have suffered martyrdom. There were the long, 
unrelenting years of service given by Tomas de Berlanga, the Dominican bishop of Panama. 
Domingo Betanzas, Domingo del Cruz, Cristobal del Cruz are among the first and finest 
Dominican missionary preachers of Mexico who paved the way for the future, never 
counting the cost. We cannot neglect to mention the quiet Dominican missionaries whose 


example and works of mercy preached in a different kind of way, like Francesco Garcia, the 
Dominican lay brother and mystic of Pueblo, Mexico, whose memory endures. 

Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, 
we proclaimed the Gospel of God. 1Th 2:9 

Bartolome de las Casas must have special mention, for it is not without reason that 
he is referred to as "Shepherd of the Indians" and "Protector of the Indian." They had, as 
we have seen, many champions, yet Las Casas is monumental in the history of the founding 
of the missions in the New World. 

Born in Seville, he was eighteen years old when Columbus discovered the West 
Indies in 1492. As a young man he was engrossed in his successful pursuits, his wealth 
and social position. His inspiration to take a degree in law at the Dominican University of 
Salamanca proved a providential event. There, the moral questions concerning the peoples 
of conquered nations were just beginning to distil into a strong brew. The inner heart and 
mind of this young man imbibed everything, but he was not ready just yet to put everything 
in place. 

Meanwhile, Bartolome crossed the sea in 1502 in the full attire of a Spanish 
grandee: wealth, pomp and personal pride. To his credit, he was one of the very few 
among so many who acted benevolently toward his Indian slaves. This minimal 
consideration alone would have been worth a trophy in an age of cruelty. He kept slaves for 
eight years in Hispaniola without a flicker of bad conscience. However, in 1510 the 
Dominican missionary preachers arrived from Spain, and this made all the difference in the 
life and style of living of the thirty-six year old Bartolome de las Casas. The Dominicans 
were unrelenting with regard to slavery: Slavery is a sin that requires confession and 
repentance. Everyone heard the call. The Spanish colonials felt the pinch of pride and 
effrontery, reacting severely. But Bartolome awakened and was cut to the heart. The word 
of truth thoroughly converted his conscience. He espoused Matthew 19:21, sold his 
possessions, became a diocesan priest, then went to Spain to procure help of every kind, 
particularly permissions from the ailing Ferdinand before the latter died. Meanwhile, the 
Spaniards remained intractable. They could not or would not see the truth, and they 
continued their inhuman treatment of the Indians. Further complications came with the 
king's death when his half-promises to protect the Indians collapsed. 

The influence of the Dominicans on Las Casas at this point drew him to enter the 
Order. By this time the Dominicans at Salamanca were in animated discussion over the 
moral rights of the Indians. Bartolome de Las Casas felt himself in complete accord with 
their teaching and preaching. Because this was the case, one would think this extraordinary 
man would swing immediately into ministry. Instead, for an entire eight years he turned to 
prayer, reflection and writing on behalf of the moral situation with the natives and the 
conquistadors in the New World. Then like a giant prepared to run his course, he set out to 
actively win the Indians for Christ. He and Luis de Cancer labored tirelessly and heroically 
for the conversion of the Indians in Guatemala. The success of a mission that everyone said 
was impossible, was due to the holiness and creative genius of these missionary preachers. 
Las Casas went on to teach in Peru and Mexico, placing his intellectual skills at the service 
of the Church and the people. While a missionary to Chiapas, Mexico, he was appointed 
bishop. The conquistadors, bent however on killing, exploiting or enslaving the natives, 
destroyed his every success. Finally, after years of unbelievable toil and patience, 


Bartolome de las Casas returned to a convent in Madrid, Spain. It was here, perhaps, that 
he accomplished his greatest work. His heavy, sorrowing heart watched every effort of his 
for the Indians fail. Suffering failure is one more sign of an apostolic preacher: his tongue 
would be silent, but his inner anguish and his busy pen would proclaim the truth, even to the 
eighty-second year of his life. 


In the name of Christ we appeal to you 
to be reconciled to God. 2 Co 5:20 

Lest we think of slavery as an evil of the past, we have only to pay attention to the 
horror of the present in our global situation. Today the word slavery is coated in the 
expression "trafficking in persons," lest our consciences be too startled by the shocking 
truth. The same conversion of a people's paradise into hell in the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries, happens on a massive scale today. The diocesan weekly, "The BC Catholic," 
reports that slave trade extends to every country in the world, including the United States. 15 
"The U.S. government estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and 
children are trafficked across international borders each year. Nearly 18,000 are trafficked 
into the United States." 16 The atrocities in Darfur in the Sudan are all too familiar, and too 
many to be numbered by the most sophisticated and recent counts. 

With regard to the entire question of the colonization of the New World, the National 
Council of Christian Churches has suggested that the whole episode was so corrupt, so 
disastrous, that it should call forth mourning and repentance. 17 The stories and problems of 
past centuries are repeated in our own time. 

Every Dominican missionary preacher 
mentioned in this article spent his life for 
those in bondage. The article is written to 
appeal, in the name of Christ and in honor of 
those who have preached in the past, for 
human rights and respect for the goodness 
inherent in every living human being. Can the 
global community today expect to be 
reconciled to God if we neglect to save those 
enslaved and in dire misery? No one on the 
face of this earth should feel comfortable 
until slavery in our own day is totally 
abolished, and until the world community 
turns from its sin and is reconciled to God. 


1 "Spanish Empire," Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia ( 
/empire )quoting Henry Kamen, 1. 

2 Ibid. 

3 John P. McKay, History of Western Society, Sixth Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998), 508. 

4 Internet Google Search: "Age of Discovery, New Spain." Note: this entire paragraph is influenced 
by this internet site. 

5 Ibid. 

6 Ibid. 

7 Ibid. 

8 2Tm4:2. 

9 Ralph H. Vigil, The Americas, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Jul., 1981), 45-57 ( p. 49. 
Note: JSTOR is an independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating and preserving 
a digital archive of scholarly journals. 

10 Hispaniola is what we know today as Haiti and the Dominican Republic 

11 Jean Dorcy, O.P., St. Dominic's Family (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1983), 254. 

12 Ibid, 254. 

13 Ibid, 255. 

14 http://www.thomist.Org/visitors/1 946/462aagui.htm 

15 The BC Catholic (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, December 6, 2004), 15. 

16 Ibid. 

17 Helen Rand Parish, Bartolome de las Casas (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), 1. The Introduction 

to this volume is by John Farina. 

C^very one of tne T~riars lived an heroic life. 

Lkey kept the strict observance, 
wkicK would nave meant muck fasting. 

L ravel was aanae-v^ouS; arauous/ ana generally on foot. 

Lkeir disciplined way of life would also entail nignt Office 
and a full schedule of prayer. 

Lkey opted for poo^ dwellings ana long kout*s of apostolic labor. 
jr\n ordinary day was a laying down of one's life. 



Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, O.P. 

Marbury, AL 

O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary... to Thee and to thy Immaculate Heart we bind 
and consecrate ourselves anew... Once again we proclaim Thee the Queen of our Order - 
the Order which thy son, Dominic, founded to preach the Word of Truth everywhere for the 
salvation of souls.... 1 

On August 8, 2004, Father Carlos Azpiroz Costa, O.P., Master of the Order of 
Preachers, renewed the Solemn Act of Consecration of the Dominican Order to the 
Immaculate Heart of Mary. This Act of Consecration was promulgated by the General 
Chapter of 1949 which stipulated that it should be renewed every year on the Feast of the 
Most Holy Rosary. 

We are all aware of course that St. Dominic himself at the very beginning of the 
Order entrusted it to Mary, our Mother of Mercy. Each year we celebrate her patronage and 
renew this act of entrustment or consecration. The Dominican formula for profession 
incorporated a type of consecration to Our Lady prevalent in the feudal society of his time, 
the formula which we still use today. At that time our Order was the only one which included 
Our Lady in its formula for Profession. "We promise obedience to Mary. It is by the hands of 
Mary that we hand over to God the radical ownership of our being and of our possessions. It 
is by her heart that we consecrate ourselves to divine worship and to the service of souls." 2 

In this paper we would like to explore the concept of consecration in order to see just 
what influence does it have in our lives? What is expected of us in order that consecration 
may effect what it intends? 

Consecration and Vocation 

The first known act of consecration to Our Lady was composed by St. John 
Damascene in the fourth century. 3 In 626 A.D. the city of Constantinople consecrated itself 
to Mary to implore her help and protection from invading armies. 4 But the concept of 
consecration itself is much older. In the Old Testament consecration was a setting apart in 
order to belong exclusively to God. For example God called the people of Israel to be set 
apart from the profane nations around them in order to become God's exclusive property. 
He thus consecrated them and made them His holy People. "This should not be understood 
in the sense that God inwardly sanctified people, but in the sense that he took possession of 
them and set them apart." 5 

In the New Testament consecration finds it full meaning and fulfillment in Jesus 
Christ, who is the Consecrated or Anointed one. Therefore New Testament consecration 
further means "to be made holy, to enter into the very holiness of God." 6 "At the instant in 
which the Eternal Word becomes man, a unique fullness of human holiness is accomplished 
in the assumed nature, a fullness which goes beyond that of any other saint, not only of the 
Old but also of the New Covenant. This holiness is a result of the unique 'consecration' 
about which Christ Himself will speak explicitly during a discussion with his hearers: "Can 


you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes 
because I said 'I am the Son of God'?" (Jn. 10:36. [NAB])." 7 

It is God who first calls and consecrates a person He has chosen in order to bring 
him or her into His own holiness. Thus consecration is rooted in and flows out of the 
concept of vocation. "Every vocation is a vocation for consecration, that is to be holy and 
blameless before God." 8 The Latin word vocare - to call - is the root of the word vocation. 
God first calls each creature into existence. "The existence of each one is the fruit of the 
creative love of the Father ...Each person comes to life because he is loved, thought and 
willed into existence." 9 Since the One in Whom the vocation has its source is Trinitarian in 
nature, vocation likewise has three elements or characteristics. 

The first characteristic of a vocation is its gratuitousness - it is a total gift from God. 
This gratuitousness "mirrors God the Father as the original and source of every vocation." 10 
"The initiative came from the 'original love,' the first principle, from whom proceeds the Holy 
Spirit through the Son. Yes, it was by the most liberal initiative of the love of God the Father, 
who wanted to give of His goodness, that we were created through his extraordinary and 
merciful kindness and then gratuitously called to share in his life and glory." 11 

The second characteristic of a vocation is its uniqueness. Every vocation is a 
unique-singular-unrepeatable participation in the image and life of God. Every creature is 
called to express a particular 'thought' of God in which he finds his name and identity. 12 "A 
name expresses a person's essence and identity and the meaning of this person's life." 13 
The Angel told Mary and Joseph "And you shall call his name Jesus. " (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). In 
this way vocation mirrors the Son, whose name is Emmanuel, God with us. 

The third characteristic of the vocation is its universality. In both the Old and New 
Testaments we see that vocation and consecration are not for the sake of the person called, 
but for the sake of others, that is, it is a call to mission. One is also called to be a part of a 
community as we do not live our vocation in a vacuum. Thus vocation "mirrors the Holy 
Spirit who, as the Communion of the Father and the Son, creates communion with God in 
Christ and unites in him the whole of creation." 14 

God calls us because He wants to be united with us, to give Himself to us. Therefore 
vocation is also a call to relationship, it is by nature dialogical, namely, it involves a dialog 
with God who calls and a response from the person called. And since vocation reflects the 
Trinitarian nature of the One Who calls, our response also is three-fold. 

When the Father calls He gives Himself, that is He sends the Holy Spirit who takes 
up His dwelling in us. But first God must find in the human person who is called a virginal 
openness to Him, that is, a willingness to accept God's will for his or her life. Openness is 
our response in grace to grace. The gratuitous nature of the call likewise keeps us in a state 
of deep humility and gratitude to God for such a tremendous gift. 

It is by Baptism that God first unites Himself with us. Jesus Christ, the One Whom 
God the Father consecrated and sent into the world is the One who calls us to Baptism. "In 
the Incarnation the Father consecrates the human nature of the Son through the power of 
the Holy Spirit. 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will 
overshadow you. \Lk 1:35) Receiving His consecration from the Father through the Spirit, the 
Incarnate Son responds to the Father by consecrating Himself for humanity's sake. 'I 
consecrate myself for them, so that they may be consecrated in truth' (Jn 17:19)." 15 Jesus 


calls Himself the Bridegroom, having wedded our human nature to His Divine Nature. 
Before this mystery, our response can only be that of "full submission of intellect and will - 
the obedience of faith." 16 Such a response can be called a spousal response.^ 7 

The Holy Spirit, the consecrating/anointing of the Father, enables man to respond to 
and cooperate with God's call. Our faithful cooperation with action of the Holy Spirit bestows 
on our response a mystical, spiritual fruitfulness. The Holy Spirit unites us into the 
communion of the Mystical Body of Christ and by our cooperation with Him, makes us a 
source of grace for others. 

Religious Consecration 

Within the general vocation to which all are called, there is the specific and unique 
vocation for each human person. Two of these vocations have a special consecration that 
comes from the fact that they are also a Sacrament of the Church. For example, in marriage 
the man and woman consecrate (give) themselves to each other. 18 Religious life is not a 
sacrament yet it "nevertheless, undeniably belongs to its life and holiness" and is a more 
perfect consecration "in as much as the indissoluble bond of the union of Christ and His 
Bride, the Church, is represented by firm and more stable bonds." 19 

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council explain that consecration through the 
profession of the evangelical counsels is a more profound share in Christ's consecration and 
therefore "is a fuller expression of baptismal consecration." 20 "A person's vocation to 
consecrate his or her own life has a special relationship to Christ's own consecration for the 
sake of mankind. It stems from the sacramental root of Baptism, which embraces the first 
and fundamental consecration of the person to God." 21 In effect the consecrated life is at the 
very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission since it manifests the inner 
nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union 
with her one Spouse. 22 

The profession of the evangelical counsels is a more perfect consecration because it 
is made with complete openness and "the mature choice one makes for God himself, the 
spousal response to Christ's love." 23 Religious furthermore are a witness and eschatological 
sign to the rest of the Body of Christ which fosters a greater fidelity amongst the laity and 
priesthood in the "prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian duties." 24 


As we have seen there are two elements that constitute the nature of consecration: it 
is both a call from God to enter into His holiness and a response made by the person called. 
In what way do we see Our Lady in regard to consecration? 

"Mary in fact is the sublime example of perfect consecration, because she belongs 
completely to God and is totally devotedly to him." 25 Mary as the dwelling place of the Most 
Holy Trinity shows forth to us in a perfect way how the love and action of the Trinity works in 
every soul that belongs to Them. This work of the love of the Trinity begins in the mystery of 
her Immaculate Conception, for this is the "sign of the gracious love of the Father, the 
perfect expression of the redemption accomplished by the Son and the beginning of a life 
completely open to the working of the Holy Spirit. ' 26 


As the beloved firstborn daughter of God the Father 27 "she is the image of the Divine 
choice of every creature, a choice which was made from eternity, and was totally free, 
mysterious, and loving..." 28 At the moment of her conception God consecrated her with the 
Holy Spirit: "For it must be recognized that before anyone else it was God himself, the 
Eternal Father, who entrusted himself to the Virgin of Nazareth...." 29 "She is the ideal 
creature that God dreamed about; a creature in whom there was never the slightest obstacle 
to the divine will. Because she was entirely penetrated by grace, in the depth of her soul 
everything is in harmony and the beauty of the Divine Being is reflected in her in the most 
moving way." 30 

"Together with the Father, the Son has chosen her, entrusting her eternally to the 
Spirit of holiness." 31 At the time of the Annunciation the Archangel Gabriel saluted Mary as 
"full of grace" (kecharitomene). "He does not call her by her proper earthly name, Miryam 
(Mary) but by this new name: 'full of grace.' We can see that the expression sounds as if it 
were Mary's very name, the 'name' given by the Father from the beginning of her existence." 
32 The Holy Father goes on to point out that kecharitomene indicates a reality that has 
already taken place, she has already been made "full of grace" in preparation for being 
Mother of the Son of God. 

Mary's new name "full of grace" reveals to us that she is united to the Holy Spirit in a 
unique way. In the Eastern tradition, the Fathers see "Mary All-holy" (Panhagia) as 
transparent of the Holy Spirit, the "All-Holy" (Panhagios), the Author of Holiness. 33 St. 
Maximilian Kolbe explains that the Holy Spirit exists in Mary as soul of her soul, that is, "He 
takes possession of her entire being in order to be a source of divine life in her." 34 Mary as 
the Spouse of the Holy Spirit becomes as it were a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit 
because of "the union of her very being with the being of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit 
dwells in her, lives in her, from the first instant of her existence, and He will do so always, 
throughout eternity." 35 

Mary's Response 

In reply to the Archangel when he revealed God's vocation plan for her life, Mary 
asked: "How shall this be for I know not man?" Pope John Paul II explains that this reveals 
Mary's total virginal openness to the Father's plan for her life. The fact that when she said 
these words she was already betrothed to St. Joseph reveals that under the inspiration of 
the Holy Spirit Mary had already consecrated her virginity to God and intended to remain in 
this state. 36 "Behold the Handmaid of the Lord': these words show Our Lady's profound 
humility as her response to the gratuitousness of the Father's choice of her. 

"Embracing God's salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted 
herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the Person and work of her Son, under Him and 
with Him...." 37 Mary's joyful Fiat is her spousal response to the invitation of her Son to 
follow him. As His most faithful disciple devoting herself totally to the person and work of 
Her Son, Mary thus becomes the faithful Spouse of the Redeemer. 38 

Mary accepted her election as Mother of the Son of God, guided by spousal 
love, the love which totally 'consecrates' a human being to God. By virtue of 
this love, Mary wished to be always and in all things 'given to God,' living in 
virginity. The words 'Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord' express the fact 
that from the outset she accepted and understood her own motherhood as a 


gift of self, a gift of her person to the service of the saving plans of the Most 

Mary's motherhood, completely pervaded by her spousal attitude as the 
'handmaid of the Lord'. . .perfectly unites in herself the love proper to virginity 
and the love characteristic of motherhood, which are joined and as it were 
fused together. 

For this reason Mary became not only the 'nursing mother' of the Son of Man 
but also the 'associate of unique nobility' (LG #61) of the Messiah and 
Redeemer. 39 

It was by the movement of the Holy Spirit within her that Mary said 'yes' with her 
whole self to God. Her response is one totally formed by grace. "In her there is total 
openness to God's power which is love." 40 "The Holy Spirit, from the first moment of her 
existence, poured out God's love into her heart which directed all her acts. He ensured that 
Mary's human response, as a conscious act of free will, was an answer of love in a perfect 
way, thus becoming a shining model for every person's personal relationship with God." 41 
As Mother of the Redeemer Mary remained closely united with her Son's work of 
Redemption during her whole life, standing at the Foot of the Cross on Calvary and then 
remaining with His disciples in the Upper Room on Pentecost. Consequently the Holy Spirit 
gave her motherhood universal fruitfulness. "For this reason, she is a mother to us in the 
order of grace." 42 

Marian Consecration 

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council deliberately placed the section on Our 
Lady in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium, to show to the faithful the 
essential role Our Lady has in the Church and in each of our lives. They wanted to remind 
us that true devotion of Mary "consists neither in sterile or transitory affection... but proceeds 
from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God and we are 
moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues." 43 In the East, the 
Theotokos intimately belongs to the unified whole of the Church's life and Liturgy. However, 
in the West, because of our knack for compartmentalizing, we tend to look at Mary in terms 
of an element of Theology, albeit a preeminent one. It was the hope of the Council that her 
essential place in the life of the Church be once again emphasized. This is what Pope Paul 
VI had in mind when he declared Mary the Mother of the Church at the closing session of 
the Vatican Council. 44 

"Marian consecration is not properly speaking a consecration to Mary, but rather a 
consecration to God through Mary. Every consecration is a consecration to God in Christ 
through the power of the Holy Spirit, through Mary, our Mother." 45 We consecrate ourselves 
to Our Lady so that with her assistance we will be able to live more fully and deeply what is 
already contained in our religious consecration. 

The Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium stated that Mary, as the Mother of 
God and Mother of the Church, "its preeminent and singular member," is the exemplar and 
perfect model for each of its members. In fact, "Mary's presence is of fundamental 
importance both for the spiritual life of each consecrated person and for the solidity, unity, 
and progress of the whole community." 46 In a particular way Mary is truly the Mother of all 
consecrated religious, 47 but we need to be aware of Mary's presence in our lives if we are to 


benefit from her help. She desires to communicate to all the grace of Christ which she has 
received. "However since hers is a mystical maternity of love, she cannot exercise it unless 
we ask her to do so, unless we accept this maternity and ask her to exercise it fully and 
freely in us. If this maternity cannot be exercised freely, Mary cannot act." 48 

It is to enable our Mother to exercise her divine maternity in us that we consecrate 
ourselves to her. The more attentive we are in listening to our mothers on earth, the more 
we are able to benefit from their advice. It is the same with Our Lady. Consecration is the 
most perfect relationship we can have with her. "The more perfectly we belong to her the 
more freely she herself will be able to guide us." 49 "Consecrating ourselves to Mary means 
accepting her help to offer ourselves and the whole of mankind to Him who is holy, infinitely 
holy: it means accepting her help - by having recourse to her motherly heart, which beneath 
the cross was opened to love for every human being, for the whole world - in order to offer 
the world, the individual being, mankind as a whole, and all the nations, to Him who is 
infinitely holy." 50 

The Effects of Consecration in our Lives 

The purpose of consecration is to enable us to attain the perfection and fullness of 
our human nature. "Each of us must bring into reality by free actions the possibilities of our 
personhood." 51 It is Baptism which begins our journey towards holiness, the perfection of 
our human nature. By holiness we mean "perfect freedom in responding to God's plan." 52 

First Effect 

The first effect of consecration in our lives is the freedom that comes from our 
openness to God. As we have said, the first response of consecration to the Father is 
virginal openness. "Mary, the first consecrated person, is for you the model of openness to 
the gift of God." 53 

The Gospel account of the Annunciation shows us that "God wishes to deal with 
persons who are responsible and free. Mary shows us the path toward a mature freedom." 54 
Pope John Paul II says that in our time it is held by many that each human being is free 
when he makes use of freedom as he wishes." 55 But in reality this is the 'antigospel' we find 
in Genesis 3:5, "you shall be as gods." "The Gospel states that freedom tends toward love. 
One is free in order to do good, that is, to love. The antigospel states that freedom is an end 
in itself. In this way it eliminates love and the possibility of love in human life and in 
interpersonal relations." 56 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that mature freedom is "the power 
rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate 
actions on one's own responsibility." 57 These acts are what is better known as acts of virtue, 
which we know are habitual and firm dispositions of the intellect and will towards doing 
always what is good and refusing to do evil. It is a growing docility to the inspiration of 
grace. Daily experience tells us all too clearly that it is not always easy, yet we know that 
the more we die to self the freer we become. 

However in today's world it seems that many have emotional and psychological 
problems which impede or prevent them from acting virtuously. Some struggle with 
unfulfilled needs and desires and search for the remedy in psychiatric counseling, yet remain 


in frustration. In a survey done in 1995 on the use of modern psychology in U.S. dominican 
monasteries, some Sisters related that individuals who are using counseling as a remedy 
often seem to show to those aroound them, little or no sign of improvement. 58 If one is truly 
impeded from acting virtuously because of psychological problems as some say, are we 
then to believe that mature human freedom is impossible for some to achieve? 

In an interesting interview Frank Moncher, Ph.D, Director of the U.S. -based Institute 
for the Psychological Sciences, relates that training patients to practice virtue is one of the 
best means to overcoming psychological problems. True, he says, severe psychological 
problems need more supplementary support than others, but actually it is the act of learning 
by experience that one can truly exercise one's intellect and will toward choosing the good, 
that leads one towards true freedom. He relates, "Efforts at virtuous outward behavior have 
a strengthening impact on the inner order of the person.... [F]ocus on doing good only to 
'feel better' or create a peaceful atmosphere exteriorly actually [does] more harm than good 
in the long run. This shortsighted focus on 'good feelings' really diminishes the fullness of 
what we are capable of as human persons because it ignores that which makes us most 
human: reason and the ability to make choices." 59 As St. Thomas would say, true acts of 
virtue are those that proceed from love of God and neighbor. 

Mature freedom brings us to a greater openness both in regard to God and to our 
neighbor, since charity is twofold. What obstacles do we often find in this regard? We know 
that God comes to us at each moment in most instances through our neighbor. Just how 
open are we to our Sisters especially when they come to us at inopportune moments? Do 
we sometimes view future members as objects to fulfill a need when we pray that God will 
send us vocations in order to help us with the burden of work? It is said that contemplative 
life is being alone in order to be free for God. Are we really free for God or are we 
sometimes using solitude to escape our neighbor and be alone with ourselves? What place 
do the elderly and sick nuns have in our community life? Are they at the heart of the 
community or are they relegated out of the way so that other nuns can be free to do their 
own work? 

Control is one of the greatest obstacles to openness, yet it is the one obstacle that 
seems to be the most common. This is true especially for a woman because 'to cherish, 
guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning." 60 The effect 
of original sin distorts this tendency in us and, unchecked, "the dominating will replaces 
joyful service." 61 "We are children of this age, and we know that our deepest and most tragic 
struggles come from trying to dominate everyone in one way or another. It suffices to 
consider our need to criticize everything. Critical and negative judgments stem from an 
instinct for domination." 62 

We can exercise control is such little ways - a look, a gesture, a word. This can be 
seen more clearly in regard to small children: a cry or temper tantrum is all it takes and 
Mommy and Daddy are controlled! For those who are entrusted with formation this is an 
especially difficult area. As long as control is in control of us, we will not be able to grow in 
inner freedom ourselves, nor help others do the same. Those who have been blessed to 
have a spiritual guide who possesses interior freedom, know how much easier it is to come 
to grips with one's own defects and failings and find freedom at the same time. 

Pope John Paul II points out that because woman is by nature more intuitive and 
sensitive to the world around her, she is more in need of interior freedom. "Women are 
much more susceptible than men to things like psychological conditioning and must 


therefore gain this freedom through an interior struggle. Women must develop what I would 
call a spiritual instinct for self-preservation and a certain method of defending their own 
personalities. The path to this is interior freedom." And, he continues, it is Christ and His 
love which brings us to this interior freedom. 63 By virginal openness to God and keeping our 
eyes fixed on the gratuitousness of His choice of us, we open ourselves to being filled more 
and more with His love. 

Love renders us welcoming. Someone who does not love becomes incapable 
of welcoming others, he turns in on himself, withdraws, becomes entangled 
with his own self-centeredness and thus becomes a stranger to others. Love 
has us come out of ourselves and tend more towards those we love. A 
complete welcome only exists with love which includes this coming out of self. 
Otherwise we welcome the person in a possessive fashion. 64 

Second Effect 

The second effect of consecration is perfect discipleship. The call of the Son to 
follow Him is a decisive moment of faith. We do not know the hows and whys, but we take 
the leap of faith and answer with Fiat! 

Indeed, at the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with 
the 'full submission of intellect and will,' manifesting the 'obedience of faith' to 
him who spoke to her through his messenger... Mary uttered this fiat in faith. 
In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve and 'devoted herself 
totally as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son' 
(Vatican II: L.G.#56). And this Son - as the Fathers of the Church teach - she 
conceived in her mind before she conceived him in her womb: precisely in 
faith! 65 

As we have already observed, the Holy Father sees Mary's Fiat as the spousal 
response to Christ. She becomes His "associate in the work of Redemption" (L.G.#61). We 
must always keep in mind that the term "spousal" here refers to a "most profound union of 
hearts and minds in the common fulfillment of the Father's salvific plan." 66 In order to make 
this same spousal response to Christ, we need freedom. It is precisely faith that leads us 
into this freedom. Faith is not merely intellectual assent to doctrines and traditions of the 
Church. Rather "it is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the 
believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." 67 

God reveals Himself entirely in Jesus Christ, who tells us: "You will know the truth 
and the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32 NABJ. It is Jesus who reveals man to himself (cf. 
G.S.#24) and what greater freedom can we have than to know the truth about our own 
human nature? In the first three Chapters of Genesis "the revealed truth concerning the 
human person as 'the image and likeness of God' constitutes the immutable basis of all 
Christian Anthropology." 68 

God said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gn 1:26). And then 
"God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female 
he created them" (Gn 1:27). The creation of the one human nature existing as feminine and 
masculine shows that the human person is created to live in communion. That is, the 
human body is a sign of the nuptial essence existing in the soul of each human person. The 
human body "includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, capacity of 


expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift - and by means of this gift - 
fulfills the meaning of his being and his existence, " 


In the Gospel Jesus reveals to us that God is not an alone. Rather He exists in a 
communion of Persons. "God is Love" (1 Jn 4:8). He is a mystery of self-giving love. The 
Father and the Son are continually giving Themselves to each other in Love and the Holy 
Spirit who proceeds from Them is this Love personified. "This inner life of the Trinity repeats 
and re-echoes itself in innumerable and varied ways in the creatures that have come forth 
from the hand of God." 70 We cannot see this mystery in Itself but rather, Pope John Paul II 
reminds us, as it is revealed in the human body. "The body and it alone is capable of 
making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into 
the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden in God." 71 This is why our body shows 
forth the nuptial essence of our human nature. We are created for union and communion 
with God and each other. The Pope calls this the communio personarum, or "the 
communion of persons brought about through mutual self-giving" 72 

Usually we think of nuptial union in terms of marriage and indeed in the Old 
Testament this was the case. But Pope John Paul II reminds us that marriage "in itself did 
not determine definitely the original and fundamental meaning of being a body, or of being, 
as a body, male and female." 73 Rather marriage is the foreshadowing of the Heavenly 
Marriage Banquet, the marriage of the Lamb with His Bride the Church In other words, 
"Marriage reveals the nuptial character of celibacy, and celibacy reveals that the ultimate 
purpose of marriage is to prepare us for heaven." 75 

St. Paul, reflecting on the unity of man and woman at the time of creation said: This 
mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church." (Eph. 
5:32) "This bride, of whom the Letter to the Ephesians speaks, is present in each of the 
baptized and is like one who presents herself before her Bridegroom:" 76 "I have betrothed 
you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one spouse. But I am afraid that as the 
serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and 
pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor 1 1 :2-3). 

The reference to the nuptial union of Christ and the Church gives marriage 
itself its highest dignity: in particular, the sacrament of Matrimony introduces 
the spouses into the mystery of Christ's union with the Church. However, the 
profession of virginity or celibacy enables consecrated persons to share more 
directly in the mystery of this marriage. While conjugal love goes to Christ the 
Bridegroom through a human union, virginal love goes directly to the person 
of Christ through an immediate union with him, without intermediaries: a truly 
complete and decisive spiritual espousal. Thus in the person of those who 
profess and live consecrated chastity, the Church expresses her union as 
Bride with Christ the Bridegroom to the greatest extent. For this reason it 
must be said that the virginal life is found at the heart of the Church. 77 

"One cannot correctly understand virginity without referring to spousal love. It is 
through this kind of gift that a person becomes a gift for the other." 78 One hears more and 
more that a spousal relationship with Christ is totally foreign to Dominican spirituality. 79 St. 
Augustine reminds us that our hearts were made for God, and they are restless until they 
rest in Him. If we do not give our hearts to Christ, to whom or what shall we give them? 
Could this be the reason why work has taken on monumental proportions in our 


monasteries? It seems the more we give our self to work, the more it wants from us. The 
more labor-saving devices we obtain, the more work seems to multiply! So we have to start 
taking away from other times to give work what it wants from us. 

Pope John Paul II has spoken about the frustration experienced by those who suffer 
from unsatisfied needs, creating situations which damage the personality. Some schools of 
psychology, he says, prescribe work as a remedy to supply for a sense of human value. 
Work has its place, he remarked [as K. Wojtyla - Ed.], but "this work ethic is not a 
satisfactory prescription. However it is taken, work cannot satisfy the person nor fulfill the 
deepest needs of his humanity. Unless it is taken as the fulfillment of service and love, it 
can neither satisfy the person, nor give release from even the slightest frustration. If work is 
not seen as an expression of service and love, it can destroy the person." 80 

Union and communion between persons must be nourished by spending prime time 
together, as any married person should know. So it is with us. St. Augustine tells us in the 
Rule "The main purpose for your having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, 
intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart." Our foremost way of living out our union 
with Jesus will be by creating communion with all our Sisters. The prime time for building this 
communion is at recreation. But work makes such demands of us, that sometimes it begins 
to happen that we start chopping off this time of communion and make recreation periods 
shorter, or delete some of the periods all together. "Yet we see that in every aspect of our 
life - for both men and women - we need others. Our happiness relates intimately to our 
relations to others because we come to know ourselves and others, including God, through 
these relations." 81 

In the Eucharist, the Banquet of the Divine Bridegroom, Jesus gives Himself entirely 
to us. As part of our spousal response of giving ourselves as a gift to Him, we must also 
give ourselves to our Sisters. Just as Jesus feeds us with Himself so we must feed our 
Sisters. This is not some devotional practice, but a true reality. It happens at times that a 
community seems to have a great deal of love and charity for each other and yet one has 
the sensation of being 'starved.' This is because though truly they love one another, there is 
no "complete gift to the other." The "gift of self to the other" has been taken over by a "work 
ethic" that is a false concept of what true human fulfillment is. The truth is that "man cannot 
fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." 82 If man does not give himself or 
herself as a "gift of self to the other" he or she will remain incomprehensible to himself or 
herself. 83 

The Third Effect 

The third effect of consecration is that the Holy Spirit brings us to a fullness of love. 
The Holy Spirit is the Divine Gift, the first Gift given to us in Baptism. He takes the total gift 
of self given to Christ and makes it fruitful for both the entire Order and for the Church. 

When Christ's love is accepted with an 'undivided heart' it gives new energy 
to the infinite capacity to love which God has placed in the human heart, 
bearing it to the heights of the limitless divine love. It is from this love that 
your spiritual motherhood springs (cf. Gal 4:19), a source of life for the 
Church. The example of Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth will always be a source 
of particular spiritual fruitfulness in your consecrated life." 84 


Mary gave herself so completely to her Son's work of Redemption that it led her to 
the Foot of the Cross on Calvary. Though the mystery of the Passion was beyond 
comprehension, Mary stood and remained faithful to the Father's Will. Thus she emptied 
herself to the utmost. "Due to her complete self-emptying at Calvary, the Spirit could give 
her Divine motherhood universal fruitfulness that would extend to men and women of all 
times and in whose birth and development she would cooperate." 85 "It is the Church which is 
conceived in the depths of her heart; and it is the fruit of the whole mystery of the Cross 
which is entrusted to Mary, which is given to her. Just as at the Annunciation the Father 
communicated to her the fruit of His contemplation by giving her the Word, at the Cross 
Jesus communicates to Mary the fruit of His labor, the fruit of His holocaust, of His 
contemplation and of His adoration." 86 

Like Mary, we also are called to bring forth spiritual children. This requires that we 
be entirely emptied of self and follow Christ along the path of love. "Choosing an enclosed 
space where they will live their lives, cloistered nuns share in Christ's emptying of himself by 
means of a radical poverty, expressed not only of things, but also of 'space', of contacts, of 
so many benefits of creation." 87 "Your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:3J. "The world 
needs your being 'hid with Christ in God,' even though at times it criticizes the forms of 
monastic enclosure. Precisely for this reason you cannot abandon your 'being hid with hrist 
in God,' since this is an indispensable condition for the world to believe in the saving power 
of Christ. This 'hiddenness', deriving from your consecration, makes each of you a credible 
and authentic person." 88 

As already mentioned, consecration involves the setting apart in order to belong 
exclusively to God. The Holy Spirit calls us into the desert of enclosure in order that He may 
speak to our hearts. In the silence of this desert we will be able to hear His voice. 
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to 
her. And there I will give her her vineyards" (Hosea 2: 14-15). As Fr. Richard Woods, O.P., 
points out, "The Constitutions [he is speaking here of LCO] still maintain 'That the brethren 
may be able to devote themselves better to contemplation and study, that the intimacy of 
their religious family may be increased and the authenticity and character of our religious life 
may be revealed, the cloister must be observed in our convents." 89 

At the moment of her Immaculate Conception, Our Lady was consecrated and set 
apart in a unique way by the Holy Spirit. 

By this mystery, Mary is totally and radically separated from the world. She is 
a small oasis, a sealed fountain, a closed garden. All of these terms express 
the radical separation, the fatherly and divine cloister. With this mystery God 
cloistered Mary. Now each time that the Father's divine jealousy sets 
someone aside, each time He takes someone to Himself, each time He 
envelops someone in a special way, it is so that His jealous love might 
blossom for other persons. He takes a soul to Himself so that His mercy 
might be superabundant and overflow to others. 90 

"The specific mission of the contemplative vocation, then, is to undertake, cherish, 
and promote what is most deep in the life of the Church." 91 We are nuns of the Order of 
Preachers and it is wonderful to see that there is a fresh impulse in recapturing our 
preaching charism. Our Father St. Dominic established the nuns in the "heart of the Holy 
Preaching." The heart stands for love, and thus we are love in the heart of the Order. The 
temptation most prevalent today however is to see preaching as doing, something we must 


go out and do. For men this is a natural reaction in life. "Man, the rational, active builder, 
tends to be concerned with the immediate and apparent needs of life, and in consequence 
tends to take the short view..." 92 It is woman, with her gift of intuitiveness, who helps men 
see beyond the present moment. Woman is concerned primarily with being rather than 
doing. This is part of the gift of motherhood - to nourish, promote and safeguard being. A 
woman's feminine qualities enable her "to understand and foster the organic development, 
the special, individual destiny of every living being." 93 The first preaching St. Dominic and 
Bishop Diego did was that of being - that is, they lived, first, the Gospel they later went forth 
to speak. 

Each member of the Order has his or her own role to play. We do not want all to be 
hands or all to be feet. Nor can we say to either hands or feet, I do not need you. But 
without a heart, it will be of no use to have either hands or feet. Thus we have to remain 
steadfast and clear about who we are. As Sister Mary Catharine has pointed out, even in 
the Order we are increasingly identified more by what we do rather than by who we are. 94 
"Doing and having" is the mentality of consumerism which is becoming increasingly 

God is Being and God is Love. We are nothing and He has called us out of nothing 
and given us a share in His Being and His love. Thus our contemplative vocation to be love 
in the heart of the Order brings us into the very heart of the Trinity. Love is the source of all 
activity in the Trinity. And so love then becomes the source of all activity in the Order. This 
is the true meaning of enclosure. The Holy Spirit has called us apart to be transformed 
totally into love which becomes fruitful for the mission of the Order. If we do not see 
enclosure in this way, then it becomes merely the dry bones of law. And dry bones cannot 
give life to anyone. Enclosure then becomes unbearable and burdensome. 

When Jesus appeared to St. Mary Magdalen after the Resurrection, He called her 
name, "Maryf and consecrated her "to the office of 'Apostle to the Apostles.'" 95 In a manner 
of speaking we can say that our Father St. Dominic also "consecrated" the nuns to be 
preachers to the Preachers. We find St. Mary Magdalen always at the feet of Jesus: "Mary 
took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his 
feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment" (Jn 12:3). The 
disciples object to such a waste, but Jesus said to them: "Let her alone!" (Jn 12:7) "The 
precious ointment poured out as a pure act of love, and thus transcending all 'utilitarian' 
considerations, is a sign of unbounded generosity... From such a life 'poured out' without 
reserve, there spreads a fragrance which fills the whole house." 96 We are called like Mary to 
sit at the feet of Jesus, 97 to break open ourselves and let our love be poured out so that the 
fragrance will fill the whole Order. What better preaching could we do than this? 


Consecration is a deep mystery. It brings us through Mary right into the very life of 
the Trinity. It brings us to a perfect freedom and fulfillment of our feminine or masculine 
personhood. A whole lifetime would not be sufficient to plumb its depths. But if we keep it 
firmly in mind that consecration consists in virginal openness to the gratuitousness of the 
Father's love, a spousal response to Christ's call to union, and spiritual fruitfulness from 
fidelity to the action of the Holy Spirit, we will have made a good start. 


Our Lady is the perfect model of what the effects of consecration have on the human 
person. "But remember, human freedom is a freedom wounded by sin. It is a freedom 
which itself needs to be set free. Christ is its liberator; he is the one who 'for freedom has set 
us free' (Gal 5:1). In this we can count on Mary who, since she never yielded to sin, is the 
only creature who is perfectly free. I entrust you to her. Walk beside Mary as you journey 
towards the complete fulfillment of your humanity." 98 

O Queen oft/ieMostHoft/ Rosary. . . to Tfiee and to 
tfig Immacufate Heart ive fond and eonseerate 

oursefves anew. . . Onee again wejiroefaint Tfiee ttie 

Queen of our Order - tfie Order wftieft t/itf son, 

Dominie, Jbunded to jsreaefi tfie WordofTrutfi 

evergwfierejbr t/ie safvation of so ids. 

Official Act of Consecration of the Dominican Order to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Dominican 
Fathers (New York, 1954). 

E.A. Langlais, Le Pere Maitre (Paris: Desclee, 1959), 159, as quoted in Noel Molloy, O.P., "Early 
Dominican Devotion to Mary," Dominican Ashram, Vol. 20 (June 2001). 

We too, today, present ourselves to you, O Sovereign Lady; yes, I repeat, O Sovereign Virgin Mother 
of God... we consecrate ourselves, spirit, soul, and body, completely to you. 

Cf. Fidelis Stockl, ORC, Mary, Model and Mother of Consecrated Life: A Marian Synthesis of the 
Theology of Consecrated Life based on the Teachings of Pope John Paul II (Manila: ICLA 
Publications, 2003), 232. 

Pope John Paul II, "Consecrated Life is Rooted in Baptism," A Catechesis on the Creed: The 
Church, Mystery, Sacrament, Community, Vol. 4 (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1998), 550. 

Stockl, Mary, 115. 



Pope John Paul II, Catechesis of June 1990. 

Stockl, 515. 

In verbo tuo. Pontifical Work for Ecclesiastical Vocations (Rome, 1997), #16. 

Stockl, 71. 

"Address to Priests and Men and Women Religious in Fatima," Pope John Paul II Speaks to Religious, 
compiled by Jean Beyer, S.J., Vol II, 191 . 

Cf. In verbo tuo #16. 

13 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Washington, DC: US Catholic Conference. 2 nd edition 1997), #203. 

14 Stockl, 78. 

15 Stockl, 121. 

16 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium #56. 

17 Cf. Stockl, 86-88. 

18 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes, #48. See also CCC 

Vatican II, L..G.# 43. 

Vatican II, Perfectae Caritatis, # 5. 

Pope John Paul II, Ad omnes personas consecratas (1984), 3. 

See Vatican II, L.G., n. 44. 

Pope John Paul II, Ad omnes # 3. 

Vatican II, L.G.# 44. 

Pope John Paul II, Vita consecrata # 28. 

Pope John Paul II, Homily in Lourdes on August 15, 2004, Oss. Rom. No. 34 (Aug. 25, 2004), 7. 

Cf. L..G.# 53. 

Rev. Fidelis Stockl, "The Mystery of the Immaculate Conception in the Thought of Pope John Paul II," 
27 Nov. 2004 ( 

Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater # 8. 

Pope John Paul II, General Audience of Dec. 7, 1983, Oss. Rom. N. 50 (Dec. 12, 1983), 1. 

Pope John Paul II, Redemptionis donum (1984). 

Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater (1987), #8. 

CCC n. 493; also cf. nn. 721 , 829, 2677. 

St. Maximillian Kolbe, OFM.Conv., as quoted by Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., The Morning 
Star, trans. Marcia Potempa (Manila: Peimon Press, 1989), 224. 

Ibid., 253. 

Pope John Paul II, "Our Lady Intended to Remain a Virgin," Theotokos, Woman, Mother, Disciple; A 
Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God, Vol. 5 (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), 116. 

Vatican II, LG. #56. 

For a complete treatment of Pope John Paul II 's teaching on Mary as Spouse of Christ cf. Stockl, 
Mary, Model and Mother, 86-96 and 1 65-1 98. 

Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater #39. 

Pope John Paul II, Homily Dec. 8, 1994; Oss. Rom. No. 50(Dec. 16, 1991), 5. 

Stockl, "Mystery of the Immaculate Conception," 6. 


Ibid., #67. 

Cf. William G. Most, Vatican II, a Marian Council (Ireland, St. Paul Publications, 1972). "Knowledge of 
the true doctrine on Mary will always be a key to the exact understanding of the mystery of Christ and 
of the Church," Pope Paul VI, Discourse of 21 November 1964, as quoted in Redemptoris MaterML 

Stockl, Mary, Model and Mother, 529. 











Pope John Paul II, "In the Blessed Virgin Mary, consecrated persons also find a Mother who is 
altogether unique." General Audience of March 29, 1995. 

Philippe, The Morning Star, 194. 

St. Maximilian Kolbe, The Kolbe Reader: the Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, ed. Anselm Romb, 
OFM Conv. (Libertyville, IL: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1987), 119. 

Pope John Paul II, Homily at Fatima. 

Karol Wojtyla, The Acting Person, as quoted by Ronald D. Lawler, OFM Conv., The Personalism of 
Pope John Paul II (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1982), 7. 

Stdckl, "Immaculate Conception," 6. 

Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater #17. 

Pope John Paul II, Homily of 12 September 2003, Slovakia (Zenit International News Agency, 

Pope John Paul II, Redemptor hominis # 21 . 

Karol Wojtyla, The Way to Christ, trans. Leslie Wearne (San Francisco: Harper, 1984), 19. 

CCC, n. 1731. 

Sister Mary Vincent, O.P., "The Use of Psychology in the Life/Development of the Nuns," Dominican 
Monastic Search, Vol. 15 (1996), 63. 

"Psychotherapy That Takes Virtue into Account - an Interview with Frank Moncher, Ph.D." (May 9, 
2002, Zenit International News Agency, 

60 Edith Stein, Essays on Woman, 2 nd Edition revised, trans. Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D., Collected Works, 
Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996), 45. 

Stein, On Woman, 47. 

Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., Mary, Mystery of Mercy (Stockbridge, MA: John Paul II Institute 
of Divine Mercy, 2002), 22. 

Wojtyla, The Way to Christ, 37. 

Philippe, Mary, 87. 

Redemptoris. Mater #13. 

Stockl, Mary, Model and Mother, footnote 86, 42. 

Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor #87 . 

Pope John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem #4. 

Pope John Paul II, The Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1997), 63. 

St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM. Conv., as quoted by H. M. Manteau-Bonamy,O.P., The Immaculate 
Conception and the Holy Spirit, the Marian Teachings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, trans, Richard 
Arnandez, FSC (Libertyville: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1977), 36. 

Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body,75. 

Katrina Zeno, "John Paul II for 'Dummies' and the ABC's of JPII for me and you" 

Pope John Paul II, Theology/Body, 247. 

Ibid., 262-302. 

Christopher West, "Celibacy for the Kingdom and the Fulfillment of Human Sexuality" 

Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families (Feb. 2, 1994),#18. 

Pope John Paul II, "Witness to Spousal love for the Church," The Church, Mystery, Sacrament, 
Community, A Catechesis on the Creed, Vol. 4 (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1998), 566. 

Pope John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem # 8. 

Blessed Jordan of Saxony, the immediate successor to St. Dominic, frequently in his letters referred 
to Blessed Diana and her nuns as spouses of Christ. St. Catherine of Siena also reminds the nuns 
they are spouses of Christ. It is hard to reconcile this with the present claim that this is not 









1 "A Feminism with a Fuller View of Woman," Interview with Pia de Solenni, January 24, 2002 (Zenit 
International News Agency, 

Vatican II, G.S.# 24. 

Cf. Redemptor hominis #10. 

Pope John Paul II, "To Women Religious in Florianopolis, Brazil (Oct. 18, 1991), Religious Vol. II. 

Stockl, Mary, Model and Mother, 210. 

Philippe, Morning Star, 67. 

Pope John Paul II, Vita consecrata #59. 

Pope John Paul II, Ad omnes, 6. 

Richard Woods, O.P., "Rediscovering our Dominican Contemplative Tradition," Southern Dominican 
Provincial Assembly, May 28, 2002, San Antonio. 

Philippe, Mary, 51. 

Letter of Fr. Anicetus Fernandez, O.P., in LCM {Book of Constitutions of the Nuns of the Order of 
Preachers), p. 5. 

Gerald Vann, O.P., Heart of Compassion, the Vocation of Woman Today (Manchester, NH: Sophia 
Institute Press, 1998), 45. 

Stein, On Woman, 74. 

See Sister Mary Catharine, O.P., "Preachers of the Silent Word in a New Century," DMS, Vol. 20 

Marie-Joseph Lagrange, The Gospel of Jesus, excerpt from Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours 
for the Order of Preachers (Chicago: Dominican Liturgical Commission, 1991), 210. 

Pope John Paul II, Vita consecrata, #104. 

LCM, Fundamental Constitution, 1:111. 

Pope John Paul II, Homily at Lourdes. 



Sr. Mary Vincent, O.P. 
Farmington Hills, Ml 

The excellent talks and exchanges of the Assembly of 2004 have dwelt on harmony, 
praise, emptiness, birth, happiness, sadness, study, integrity, faith. In past years I have 
spent time, and I'm sure you have, too, on St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Here Paul is at 
his zenith. 1 I think that Paul has very much to say in this mighty letter that could accompany 
and complement the reflections the Assembly speakers have offered to us. So I invite you 
to reread with me this great testament: to sit with Paul in his prison as he wrote; to stand 
amid the first hearers of this letter; to hear as "background music" the solemn chanting of the 
Old Testament and to ponder anew the faith, feelings, convictions and hopes of Paul and his 
first followers. Join me in a thoughtful journey through the great themes of this unique 

A Letter of Blessing and Beatitude 

Paul wrote this extraordinary letter in prison, entrusting it to ordinary people like us. 
Imagine a small band of believers listening to this letter for the first time. They were soon 
going to lose Paul. They were just beginning a life of faith. They had their problems as we 
do. Illness, disappointments, frustrations, uncertainty. They knew their emptiness and need. 
But this man, Paul, was different. He was so sure. So strong. And he was certain. Not of 
himself and his circumstances. But certain of God. "Look up," Paul shouts, "Look up, you 
can make it! Look to him, the living, loving God. He is Beatitude, fullness of Blessedness 
and he has blessed and is blessing us. Blessed are we!" Paul, in Ephesians, flames out 
with burning conviction. There is no hesitation. We are blessed in Christ with the fullness of 
God. God is Fullness. And God's only desire is to give us his Son, his Spirit, his life. Christ 
reconciles the nations to God and to one another. Paul must share with his faithful band this 
transforming truth that fills his being. Some must have looked at him and said: "Paul, 
you've got to be kidding!" But he wasn't kidding. Ephesians is Paul's "Beatitude letter." He 
proclaims, as in no other letter of his, the great overarching theme of the Hebrew scriptures 
which reveal God as blessed above all and blessing His people and all creation. 2 THE 
blessing, for Paul, is Christ. He never got beyond Christ, even as he went to the Father. 
The mystery now revealed is Christ, his fullness and his joy. 

How many think of our times as unblest, with God as absent. Many struggle with 
feelings of emptiness, boredom, or frustration. Sometimes deeply hurt. Yes, we have these 
feelings. Life is hard and we may question God as Job did. But still, isn't he the only one 
who is always present? I fail, things fail, friends fail. But God, never - though he is unseen, 
hidden behind a veil, a veil sometimes thick, other times, very thin. He is always there 
communicating in some mysterious way: "I am God, your God. There is to be no separation 
between us. Maybe that is why I seem absent - because I am so close, so present. I am 
the I AM, and beyond all your feelings. Allow Me to bring you to the ultimate fullness and 
peace that I am." 



Ephesians is not only Paul at his zenith. It is the Father - his Truth, his plan, his 
grace at its zenith. Paul blesses the Father for "his glorious grace freely bestowed on us in 
the Beloved (1:6). What is this grace? Unmerited favor - hesed - revealed, proclaimed 
throughout the long ages in the Hebrew Scriptures. "God, compassionate and gracious, 
patient and full of love and fidelity [i.e., constant, reliable love]" (Exod 34:6). Paul had 
pondered God's revelation: Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses, the prophets - all of Israel had 
found grace in God's sight. 3 The psalms are filled with the praise and pleading for his 
merciful love and favor - hesed. "O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love 
endures forever" (Ps 136). "O God, be gracious and bless us and let your face shed its light 
upon us" (Ps 67). Paul himself had experienced God's unmerited favor and mercy in a 
striking way and thereafter had preached this mystery of grace which is at the heart of all his 

Ephesians gathers up the revelation: 

. . .through God's favor - God's grace - he has sent his very own Son - (1 :3); 

. . .we are forgiven "according to the riches of his grace" (1:7); 

. . .we are "destined in love - agape - hesed - to be his sons" (1 :5); 4 

..."by grace you have been saved" -2:5 & 2:8 "it is the gift of God" (8). 

..."to me, the least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles 

the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:8); 
...each of us should "impart grace to those who hear" (4:29). 
..."Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying" (6:24). 

Paul reaches a breadth and depth of comprehension not expressed before. In the 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit we are blessed by God's inexpressible favor - given now in his 
Son. We have fellowship in the mystery of God. Ephesians is a vast vision of what we are 
and what will be, expressed in the word FULLNESS. "He who descended is he who also 
ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things" (4:10). "...that you may know 
the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the utter fullness of 
God" (3:18). Ephesians' message is about the blessing of God's grace, favor and fullness. 
God's blessing as an utter gift of love. 

God desires, infinitely more than we do, that emptiness would find fullness in the 
gracious favor and mercy of God; in the word of God and in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, 
discovering there the power and wisdom of God for our wait and our walk and longing. As 
we see ourselves so we can act accordingly. St Paul knew that. In Ephesians, Paul gathers 
up the wisdom of his lifetime and his letters to tell us who God is: Father, Son and Spirit - 
gracious, merciful Fullness. And who we are: one new man in Christ, with new capacities 
and new responsibilities. He is the head, we are his body - the church. A life-shaking 


"Blessed be the God and Father who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual 
blessing in the heavenly places" (1:3). 5 Paul repeats the word "blessed, blessing." The 
blessed One blesses that we may bless. Filled with gratitude, Paul looks to the Father, 
reaches up to the Father with all the blessings he was sure he and we had been blessed 
with. "Every" spiritual blessing. A revelation of God's unfathomable love. Blessings of a 


dynamic, strong, mature oneness with Christ and his members. Blessings of communion 
and relationship. Of knowledge, holiness, destiny. Of confidence, praise and glory. 
Blessings that are the love and choice of God, the gift of his Son to us, the gift of grace 
which makes us holy, new, draws us on and makes us one body. The blessings of 
redemption and forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus. The blessings of a 
revelation of the mystery, the choice of Jews and Gentiles - the love given in promises now 
fulfilled. And this full packet placed in our hands is sealed with the Kiss of God, the Holy 
Spirit. Father, Son and Spirit gather up and unite all things under the headship and fullness 
of Christ. "Things in heaven and things on earth" (1:10). Do I believe it? 

Every "spiritual" blessing. God nowhere promises freedom from pain, anxiety, or the 
satisfaction of physical needs. We humans die daily. We suffer the loss of all things, we 
hunger and thirst. We mourn and strive to go on amidst privations of every sort. But the 
Lord calls out amidst the vast, terrible plains of bleached bones: "'Behold, I will cause breath 
to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come 
upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall 
know that I am the Lord...' I prophesied as he commanded me. ..and they lived, and stood 
upon their feet, an exceedingly great host" (Ez 37:5-5; 10). God promised and God fulfills 
his promise that we shall live! The mystery of suffering will always be with us. But Paul 
proclaims the greatest of blessings is spiritual - is resurrection fullness that overcomes even 
death. That hopes against hope. That "the sufferings of this present time are not worth 
comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rm 8:18). This writer must confess 
that years ago, when thinking over these words of Romans she was in deep distress, but he 
does and will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He is true to his word. 

"In the heavenly places" (v. 3) is a phrase not used in any other of Paul's letters. It 
has been "in the heavens." Could it be that the heavenly places were more than ever before 
the places where Paul dwelt? Christ was the heavenly place. Christ had been inspiring 
Paul and would lead him and us to those pastures. Even finding this place in the valley of 
death. Finding oneself in Christ, "even when we were dead through our sins - raised up with 
him. the heavenly places," the place where all things are fulfilled. This is a cosmic view. 
Paul is saying: even if you find a billion other worlds, Christ is there with his love, authority 
and saving Name. Christ is the "Universe" of all the universes. Christ, in all his beauty and 
power reaches beyond the farthest ends of the universe, "far beyond..." That is where he 
takes us because we are in him. Blessed. "It is the gift of God..." (2:8). Paul cannot exalt 
Christ sufficiently; nor those who believe in him. 6 

These blessings tell us: 

Who we are: "...members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ 
Jesus..." (3:6). "...a holy temple. ..joined together.. .for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit 

Where we are going: "...we both (Jew and Greek) have access in one Spirit to the 
Father" (2:18). " him we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in 
him" (3:12). "...until we come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 
to a man full-grown to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (4:13). 

What is our inheritance: "that you may know.. .what is the immeasurable greatness of 
his power.. .(1:19). "...fellow citizens with the saints..." (2:19). "...that you may be filled with 
the fullness of God" (3:19). 


What is our response: "...praise of his glorious grace" (1:6, 12, 14). The Jew was 
imbued with praise and so must we be imbued. "Be imitators of God, as beloved children. 
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and 
sacrifice to God" (5:1-2). "...always and for everything giving thanks. ..(5:19). 

Notice the word "us." "Blessed us, chose us, destined us, bestowed on us, lavished 
upon us, making known to us" (1: 3-8). "...He loved us..." (2:4). Christians, Jew, and Greek 
are loved and joined in faith. Divisions are to be no more. God the Father is the one Source 
of overflowing Abundance of life, benediction, of action; one single act, desiring us and 
freeing us through the blood of his Son. Suffering was not the Father's purpose, but that we 
live together in peace and be happy - blest - for the praise of this overflowing Abundance. 

In this letter Paul does not single out Christ's death, per se, but the Cross, and the 
redemptive fullness flowing from it. "For he is our peace, who has made us both 
one. ..breaking down the wall. Making us one" (2:14-15). This is the plan of the Father - 
made known to us in Christ. 

In Christ 

In Ephesians Paul does not spell out who Christ is in great detail. He does this more 
fully in his letter to the Colossians. Colossians is Christology. It is the Letter of the "HE IS. 
"Ephesians is the Letter of the "WE ARE." Ephesians is ecclesiology. But - as in no other 
letter - Paul develops boldly: Christ is made head over all things for the church which is his 
body. In Christ we are one body. We are blessed, chosen, destined in love to be his sons 
(living by one same life) - in Christ. This is what the Father plans, what he sees, what he 

We are in Christ. A realm, a wondrous reality in whom we live and move and have 
our being. Where we walk, are forgiven, enriched, empowered. In him we are to know and 
appreciate his plan and love. To know what is the hope of our calling. To know and 
experience his power working in Christ and in his body the church. And to live it out. 

"In him" and "in Christ" is solemnly repeated thirteen times in the first chapters. In 
him we have redemption. ..(1:7). In him we have been destined and appointed to 
live...(v.1 1). In him you were sealed. .."(v. 13). 

...blessed us in Christ.. 

...even as He chose us in him... 

...his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved, him we have redemption through His blood 

...a plan. unite all things in Christ.. him. .have we been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. him, you were sealed... (Cf ch 1). 

...made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. 
...created in Christ Jesus for good works. in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near... 

(Cf ch 2). 

...partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus... 

...the mystery that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be 


made known; this was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized 
in Christ Jesus our Lord... 
...Now to the One who is able to do exceedingly beyond what we ask or think, 
according to the power working in us, 
to him be the glory in the church 
in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Cf ch 3.) 

Repeating it over and over again in these earliest chapters Paul is simply not able to 
contain the rapturous joy of the vision he sees and the truth that he knows is his and ours. 
Paul knows God as "rich in mercy.. .who made us alive together with Christ and raised us up 
with him and made us sit with him in the heavenly places" (2:4-6). Again, as in his letter to 
the Romans, Paul is saying: there is no separation. None. We are with Christ; we are in 
Christ. Jews and Gentiles. 

..remember, that you (Gentiles) were separated from Christ, alienated from 
the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, 
having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you 
who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he 
is our peace, who has made us both one, he has broken down the dividing 
wall of hostility (2:11-14). 


Here is a major message: "He has broken down the dividing wall that he might 
create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace that he might reconcile us 
both to God in one body through the cross " (2:14-16). How does the cross reconcile us to 
God? On the cross Christ as man is sin; on the cross Christ as God is forgiveness. A full 
and perfect offering to the Father and to us. If we are reconciled, are one, with one new life, 
the cosmic struggle to be, the sociopolitical and religious alienations, our world's divisions 
cease - in Christ, our peace, who gives us peace in the fullness of the offering of himself. 
For the Jews, unbelievable. For the Gentiles, amazing. What is impossible for humankind is 
possible for Christ who is the Son of God. Here is Paul's most powerful and graphic 
statement of Ephesians: the temple wall, not to be crossed under pain of death, has been 
broken down! Imagine Jesus swinging, not a whip, but his Cross, his Person, his love 
against this terrible wall. Jesus pleads: "Nations, peoples, races: you are in me, reconciled, 
forgiven. In my death I take you to my Father and your Father. Be reconciled to one 
another." "You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God..." 
(2:19). You have the same Father, the same Saviour, the same Holy Spirit who unites you 
all. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.." (Gal 
3:28). No longer rivals, enemies, unequal. 7 

Yet there are wars and divisions still. The children of one same Father are building 
dividing walls, throwing stones and bricks and bombs. The church, the body of Christ has 
the challenge: build bridges, not walls. By every means possible proclaim and live out the 
peace and reconciliation Christ has won for us by his Blood. Show forth to the world what it 
can become: a world, caring for its children, of diverse growth, of true charity. All having free 
access to God. 8 A challenge, yes, but achieved in Christ as a mystery of Blood, a mystery 
of Love poured out. Worked out in time through the Spirit in all the peoples of the earth. 


To Know the Truth 

Much has been said asserting that we cannot know truth for certain. That to name 
God is to limit God. But Ephesians' bursting pulse is not daunted by such doubts: "For he 
has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his 
purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in 
him, things in Heaven and things on earth" (1:9). Paul is sure: we need truth to live by. Our 
minds, our intelligence are transformed by the truth. Feelings must follow facts. He is sure: 
the plan of God gathers all our wanderings and unites all the fragmented pieces of creation. 
What a vision of hope. A vision that sustains us in sadness. "So we have boldness and 
confidence of access through our faith in him" (3:12). 

Paul prays and what an ardent prayer it is: 

that God the Father may give you a spirit of wisdom the knowledge of 
him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is 
the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious 
inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his 
power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he 
accomplished when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at His 
right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power 
and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but 
also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has 
made him the head of all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness 
of him who fills all in all (1:7-23). 

All one sentence and quite a lot to know and enjoy, as well. Notice how Paul wants 
us to have the wisdom and light to know! And he tells what he knows! Nor does he say: 
"Maybe I'm mistaken." It is an extraordinary vision of resurrection power that is, gives, 
achieves and goes beyond - "far above all. ..above every name" and further than any future 
age mortals may see. 

Paul prays, knowing he is heard and that he himself is the chosen vessel through 
which many (how many, indeed) would come to know these immeasurable riches of wisdom, 
love and power. We cannot know everything because we are not God, but the part we do 
know is quite astounding, and worth one's entire life and gratitude. Paul has been given the 
grace to know the truth. 

...the glad tidings of salvation, the word of truth (1:13);. 

...that we might profess the truth in love... (41 5); 

...the truth as is in Jesus... (4:21); 

...the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true (5:8). 

It is Christ's and Paul's prayer that we know "with the eyes of our heart enlightened" 
the immense hope of truth; the light, joy and courage offered to us in Christ. 

According to 9 

Paul is so sure, because this plan of the Father is made known, achieved, and 
accomplished "according to the purpose of his will. ..according to the riches of his 
grace. ..according to the power of his might" (1:5,7,19). This most significant phrase 


"according to" is repeated six times in chapter 1 alone, and is used about eleven times in this 
letter and also in his other letters as well. Why does Paul repeat and repeat it? Because it 
harks back, it connects to the Source, the "creative Energy" of the Cosmos and the re- 
creative Energy and plan of God for our little earth. It points to wisdom, peace, unity, utter 
redemption in Christ. It points us towards the very Fullness who is God - a fullness at work 
in us and for us, Paul tells us. The Fullness which raised Jesus from the dead and raises 
and fills all things, "...the fullness of him who fills all in all" (1 :23). 

As the letter to the Ephesians emphasizes our being in Christ, just as much does it 
acclaim the Father's plan and purpose, wisdom and willing our being in Christ. It is the 
Father's grand idea. It is the mighty willing and power behind all that happens. It does not 
remain just an idea, but becomes a reality in the fullness of time. It was eternal in God, yet 
made known in a moment in time. And is still being made known in our world "through the 
church" (3: 1 0). We are to witness, live, BE, express the plan and love of the Father. 

The "whole structure is being built of living stones into a holy temple" until the end of 
time. We are to be now "a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" ((2:22). Many things may 
hinder us from accomplishing our plans. But this plan is accomplished: 

...according to the eternal purpose which he realized in Christ Jesus our 
Lord (3:1 1; ...according to the riches of his glory (3:6); 
Now to the One being able to do exceedingly beyond what we ask or think, 
according to the power working in us, 

to him be the glory in the church in Christ Jesus to all generations, 
for ever and ever. Amen (3:20). 

Paul's Greek here is untranslatable. He is overcome with the realization of God's 
working for us. We may be skeptics or cynics. Not Paul. 

This "according to" describes an unconquerable, tender, all comprehending 
Providence overshadowing, sustaining, guiding all to the fullness of Divine life. Man is not in 
control. God is. Evil shall be judged, destroyed and pass away to nothingness. "All things 
work together for the good of those who love Him" (Rm 8:28). As the great Battle Hymn of 
the Republic proclaims: "His Truth goes marching on!" Because God is working "according 
to" His mighty wisdom and will. The great test of life is to trust in the face of evil. Paul was 
affirming and confirming the first Christians and all Christians of every age. 

I like to think again of the gathering when this letter was read for the first time. It was 
probably in the evening at the end of the day's work. There may have been thirty or forty 
persons there. Probably no more than a hundred. The hard-working fathers and mothers of 
the town's families, farmers, merchants, makers of sandals or tents, weavers and dyers of 
cloth, bakers, cooks, slaves, maybe the town clerk. So Paul had written them. But he was 
in prison again. Discouraging and worrisome. What would happen to them, if something 
happened to Paul? Yet Paul always spoke and wrote with such enthusiasm and conviction. 
He was so sure, not of himself, but of God. He never fully recovered from the five times he 
suffered lashings. 195 stripes! "We do not lose heart, though our outer nature is wasting 
away" (2 Cor 4:16). Yet he always worked with his hands and was never a burden to 
anyone. All his hardships - beatings, betrayals, shipwrecks, setbacks - nothing daunted him. 
This little flock listened carefully to their great friend and teacher and took heart. Perhaps 
the letter was read at a gathering of a Eucharist. A Thanksgiving. This is how Paul always 
began his letters. They were encouraged by his words. The truth uplifts and sets free. They 


partook of the Bread of life and found strength. And great hope. 

It is sometimes said that there is only black and white in Paul. Yet Paul knew all 
along that we are pressed down by discouragement; our human feelings are easily hurt, 
grey or empty. That our human spirits cannot breathe the divine without long, deep, 
purification. So Paul knew he must tell them of the white light of fullness that would be theirs 
in the darkness and emptiness throuph faith . This was not "a come-on" gimmick or fancy 
rhetoric. It was the fullness of the light that he had experienced on the fateful road to 
Damascus. It was the truth that would set them free, that would give them and us courage. 
And so the letter to the Ephesians tells us we are in Christ. We are one body, never alone. 
We are caught up in the mystery. We are in Christ - not empty - but filled "according to." 


I asked myself again and again (and I hope you do, too) - why does Paul speak of 
fullness, when most humans experience so much emptiness? When most of the world's 
billions spend their lives like Job, on the dung hill of Calvary? That is precisely WHY Paul 
proclaims the fullness of God. It is the TRUTH. God is the transforming, final destination, 
the unseen, but present One, the ABIDING hope - in all our pain. Paul knew that every 
human person must pass through countless difficulties on the way to "heavenly places." 
That life is very hard. He was not naive. He saw the cruelty, poverty, injustice, and pain in 
his own times, and in his own life. He knew the psalms full of sighs and cries of distress. "A 
man may live seventy years, yet most of these are emptiness and pain" (Ps 90). "To the 
Lord in the hour of my distress - I call and He answers me" (Ps 120). These inspired 
prayers are witness to emptiness calling to Fullness. There can come the terrible insight 
that I love neither myself, nor God nor anybody else. That is emptiness! God is beyond all 
sense perceptions. Beyond all human perception. Paul tells us: "Believe! Don't run away. 
Don't drug or deny your emptiness, but believe in Fullness for emptiness. Pass over to 
Fullness by the surrender of faith. Breathe in the divine and be filled. We can taste it now. 
It is ours in Christ who has ascended to the Father, taking his body with him!" 

Paul himself must have felt very crushed and empty after he was stoned, after he 
was lashed. He had doubts, fears. He spent a very long time chained in prisons. But Paul 
was not ashamed of his chains. They did not bind his spirit nor the Holy Spirit. There is no 
smell of a prison in this letter. Paul was in a dark dungeon, but he had the light of Christ. 
He was struck down, but could stand firm. He lacked so many necessary things, but not the 
power of the Spirit. So Paul is not depressed or heavy burdened. He could sing in prison (cf 
Acts 16:25). He knew the psalms of pure praise, too. "O give thanks to the Lord for He is 
good, for His love endures forever" (Ps 136). "High above the nations is the Lord, above the 
heavens His glory" (Ps 113). Paul would preach the unsearchable riches of Christ and the 
Father. What were these riches? He does not define them, but tells of them as experienced 
by himself and those first Christians. 

I bend my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on 

earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory 

he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner 


that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; 

that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend 

with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 

and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, 


that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3: 1 4-1 9). 

These were the riches. Not a life free of pain, but a life filled with the presence and 
power of Christ and His Spirit. World events, circumstances, human lives, impressions and 
feelings are constantly in flux. But Truth remains. "To know the love of Christ" means to 
experience it in our life. It would satisfy and bind believers together. There would always be 
more. This knowing would be enough, and yet never enough. But they would be filled - not 
with anything paltry or passing - but with the very fullness of God. Divine life in Christ. 
Hope, peace, joy. The truth of fullness - fill - filled is repeated over and over. 10 Paul 
confidently proclaims: 

...a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in Heaven 

and things on earth (1:10). 

...he has put all things under his feet and has made him head over all things 

for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all 

(1:22). love being rooted and grounded that you may be strengthened to 

comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length 

and depth and height, 

to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, 

that you may be filled to all the fullness of God (3: 1 7-1 9). 

The One coming is also the One going far above all the heavens, 

that he might fill all things (4: 1 0). 

...until we all attain to the unity of faith. the measure of the stature of the 

fullness of Christ (4: 1 1 -1 3). 

Note here and throughout Ephesians the repetitions of the little but mighty word "all". 
Paul does not exclude anyone, nor does God. 

The riches were offered. The riches of Christ were his Blood, His Spirit (1:23). This 
Christ-fullness takes us "to all the fullness of God" (3:19). It is a Trinitarian mystery. 

The Cross is the Fullness of God 

As I pondered what this mystery of Fullness might be in the realization of the vast 
suffering in our world it came to my mind that the Cross is the Fullness of God. There 
would be no Resurrection or Pentecost without the Cross. The Cross is and reveals the 
fullness of love. The Cross reveals the Father's eternal pain and longing that we would 
come home to him. He sent His Son to bear the pain of separation, that separation would 
be destroyed. The Cross reveals the Son emptying himself of the fullness of life, that 
"through His blood" (1:7) we might be healed and delivered from the death of sin. The Cross 
reveals the Spirit of Christ poured out from that opened side - the fire of blood to enkindle us, 
living water to purify us, satisfy us - with the fullness of love. 

Jesus and his Father took the risk that love might not be revealed, but concealed. 
That we would stop at the wounds (his and ours) and not enter and find the secret of the 
Heart. That we would not understand the mystery of the Cross and the immeasurable desire 
of love beating there for us. 

Our world is a vast forest of crosses with Christ's Cross in the center. There Christ 
gathers up all our tears - Adam's to those of the last child born of woman. There Christ 


hangs with arms outstretched, answering our cries of "Where are You, Lord?" with "Here I 
am with you - on the cross." And so in time's great travail, the Cross is the Fullness of 
God. We can find it there, as did the Good Thief, as did Paul in his prison cell. Fullness is 
ours on the Cross. The Gospel Enigma and the Paradox of life. 

The Resurrection Is the Fullness of God 

From the Cross springs the Resurrection and Pentecost. What is the Resurrection? 
It is not a return from the dead but a break, through death, into a life in which death has no 
more power. "Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting!' (I Cor 
15:55). We only experience life mixed with death, but our baptism, our faith in Christ give us 
resurrection power. Even now we taste eternal life. Christianity proclaims: "We are raised 
up in him!" That was the overwhelming good news of the early Church. Teilhard de Chardin 
complained that Christians are no longer contagious. We are timid, mediocre, skeptical. 11 
Not so Paul or those first martyrs and believers. Christ's resurrection reveals that death is 
overcome by love. That God's love is utterly reliable and full of power. Full of life. 

The Spirit Is the Fullness of God 

Pentecost's Spirit was poured forth upon us from the Cross. Paul never speaks of an 
"Event" of Pentecost, but preaches the fact of the Spirit poured out on us: 

As God's gift : who enables us to hope and live to the full (cf Rom 5:5). 

As God's seal , God's earnest and guarantee (cf Eph 1:14). 

As God's wisdom and power : "...walk, not according to the flesh, but 

according to the Spirit". (Rom 8:4). 

As God's sighing and praying in us (cf Rom 8:26). "God has sent the Spirit 

of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! (Gal 4:6). 

Above all Paul speaks of him as Life-giver . "If the Spirit of him who raised 

Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead 

will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" 

(Rom 8:11). A life-giver who accomplishes the Father's will in us: "...we have 

access in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph 2:18). 

As Unifier, Sanctifier and Builder : "...the whole structure is joined together 

and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for 

a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph 2:21). "There is one body and one 

Spirit..." (4:4). 

As the Joy of God : " filled with the Spirit.. .singing and making melody to 

the Lord with all your heart" (5:18,19). 

Paul proclaims that the Spirit is fullness dwelling within us now and forever. The 
Spirit is power in our prayer, in our minds, in our walk, in our witness, in our weakness, in 
our hope, in love and in faith. God's Spirit is the Artificer of creation and re-creation. 


There is more to this power of Fullness as Paul describes in this letter to the 
Ephesians. "Be filled with the Spirit" (5:18). Believers must act in this Fullness. Paul begs 
his Christian neophytes to "lead a life worthy.. .be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit" 
(4:1,3). Follow the grace and the ceaseless action of the Holy Spirit "with lowliness and 
meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love" (4:2). The power of Fullness is in 


loving, serving, giving. Giving life and hope. It is never a power of domination. The unity of 
Christ's Body witnesses to the grace of the Holy Spirit binding us together in the bond of 
peace. Paul exhorts us to follow the Spirit of grace, and be true to the truth: 

There is one body and one Spirit, 

just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, 

one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 

one God and Father of us all, 

who is above all and through all and in all (4:4-7). 

In this tremendous passage of just forty-four words Paul repeats "one" seven times! 
"All," four times. What could match this realization of faith, expressed by Paul as no one 
else has. It is truly a masterful Credo. Paul bursts forth with this revelation: we are baptized 
into the Father, Son and Spirit - all are one in Them. God wills it so. Again Paul is shouting: 
we are reconciled to God. Christ has broken down the dividing wall. 

He exhorts: we are one, yet have different gifts. This should not divide, but build up. 
"Grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, one body, knit together..." 
(4:15-16). Though Paul is a very strong individual, individualism has no place in this letter. 
It is definitely not a "me-message." Paul wants us to watch our walk; but to walk as 
members of one body. Not isolated, lonely or self-seeking. He lists the manifold pitfalls one 
by one, urging this body to be true to its Head. That this body bear may witness to oneness 
of life and destiny in Christ. Walking always in the light. 


Paul was a devout Jew and for the Jew the walk is extremely important. God had 
counseled Abraham our father in the faith: "Walk before me and be perfect" (Gen 17:1). The 
theme of "walk" is very prominent in both the Old and New Testaments, "You shall walk in all 
the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live..." (Deut 5:33). It is 
an exhortation repeated about 406 times! The Psalms are great prayers for a holy and 
faithful walk: "They are happy who do his will, seeking him with all their hearts, who never do 
anything evil, but walk in his ways" (Ps 119). Countless verses could be listed. Paul himself 
urges a worthy walk over thirty times in his letters. Perhaps the most beautiful and deep: 
"Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us..." (Eph 5:2). Paul, after writing 
this, was soon to walk into the arms of God's fullness. Giving his life, but telling them "Don't 
lose heart over what I'm suffering for you. It is your glory" (3:13). He would point us to glory, 
but beg us to walk! 

Divine Fullness is given to us day by day. How? In the fullness that is the Eucharist, 
in prayer, charity, kindness. We ever are to keep the pitcher that is our life uplifted under 
that flowing Fountain. Why? That we be strong to wipe with our sweat and tears the 
disfigured face of the church. "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good 
works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (2:10). Paul knew that 
to build up the body of Christ in love we must 

lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 

with all humility and meekness, with patience "love is patient, love is kind" 

(I Cor 13:4). 

bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit 

in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3). 


If the church was to be a temple for the Lord and for each other, it must be holy in its 
walk. "Put off your old nature. ..put on the new nature. ..putting away falsehood..." (cf ch 4). 
Paul carefully lists many dangers and temptations in our daily walk, " imitators of God, 
as beloved children. And walk in love. ..[an agape love as is the Father's]" (5:1). The 
fullness with which we are blest is to overflow in our feet, in our hands, tongues, minds and 
hearts. Yes, we, Christ's body, have great responsibilities. "Once you were darkness, but 
now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (5:8). 

Know Yourself 

It is imperative that we know ourselves. It is a tenet of psychology that "You cannot 
perform in a manner inconsistent with the way you see yourself." It is fascinating to see how 
all of Scripture shows us who God is and who we are. The truth we believe in will determine 
our life, our daily walk. Are not wars a violent eruption springing from a false premise of 
what is? 

St. Paul, as a young man, saw himself as an ardent Jew, a Pharisee among 
Pharisees, zealous for his religious beliefs, that God is one, that this new sect was a 
pernicious threat. Yet when he met Jesus Christ and grew to the full realization of who 
Jesus was and who he, Paul, was in Christ, his world turned upside down. "What was gain 
for me, is loss for Christ" (Phil 3:7). Paul saw his evil tendencies, but saw too, what God had 
given him: the love and mission that lay before him. His great personal capacity was 
emptied and then filled many times over. 

What a moment it must have been when Paul saw himself as invincible in Christ. "I 
can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). It must have been like a 
resurrection. Then his great passion was Christ and his body, the church. Then he walked 
the roads of many lands not to harm, but to bring life-giving truth: "He chose us [feel the 
tenderness of this] in him. ..that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined 
us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ..." (1:4-5). 

Paul would teach the truth that we might walk in the truth. As we see ourselves so 
we act. Thus Paul in Ephesians tells us who we are: blessed in Christ, with one same life as 
the Son, new creatures, one new man. 

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the 
most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but 
understand what the will of the Lord is. filled with the Spirit, addressing 
one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making 
melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks 
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (5:15-20). 

Christ and the Church - A Spousal Relationship 

As Paul exhorts us to walk in the light he urges the man and woman in their marriage 
to mutual respect and self-giving. Enclosed in this lifting up of the holiness and responsibility 
of marriage Paul sees this union as an image of the spousal relationship of Christ with his 
body, the church. Christ is the husband, the Groom loving us as His Bride - as his own 
Body. "The two shall become one" (5:31). Nothing could be closer. Each member is called 
to this spousal relationship - to this union full of dignity and sanctity. 


Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up 
for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of 
water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, 
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without 
blemish (5:25-27). 

"A great mystery" (5:32). A Spousal mystery. A relationship of utter self-giving to 
each other. A call to the church to be a faithful bride. Paul tells us it is who we are. 

All Be Strong in the Lord 

Children, slaves and masters. All are one as members of his body. All together are 
called to contend with the "wiles of the devil" (6:11 ). We are to "put on the armor of God and 
stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth..." (6:14). Evil is real, "...we are not 
contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, 
against the world rulers of this present age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the 
heavenly places" (6:12). Note the warrior-word "against" repeated five times. Christians 
must oppose evil. We hate evil, but pity evil-doers. We cannot put our heads in the sand 
and be indifferent, afraid, or unprepared. Paul is clear. We must take up the full armor, not 
of weapons but in the Spirit of fullness to pray and persevere in the struggle. Paul knows 
that the battle against Amalek will go on till the end of time. 


God's fullness is ours. As it overflows in God, and comes to us in his Christ, so from 
us must it overflow moment by moment - in praise, in love and deeds. The word "fullness" is 
so wonderfully apt and sublime. It is an imageless image. An image without an image. It 
takes us beyond concepts or pictures. It says no-thing, yet it says everything. Who is this 
God? One with no limits, no lack. Immeasurable. Incomprehensible. Plenitudo. Pleroma. 
Rich in mercy. Worthy of all praise. The Fullness of beauty and of love and power to save 
and bring us to heavenly places. "Trust him," Paul pleads. "Believe and walk the world in 

Paul was truly filled with the full light of the Spirit. This light forever shines in the 
countless heroic lives of God's people through the centuries. The light of wisdom and love, 
the light coming from the Cross. Without light our world perishes. Paul in Ephesians 
proclaims to all what it is - who it is - we become in the fullness of Christ. We become He - 
(Christ) HE becomes WE! Blessed in him with the fullness of God, as Christ's body to be a 
fragrant offering in praise of his glory, ministering to each other in tender bonds of 
assistance, "knit together" (4:16). Strong in his might to build the temple, and not walls of 
animosity - that all may come to the unity of love and the perfect vision of Fullness. 

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; 

even my body shall rest in safety, 

For you will not leave my soul among the dead, 

nor let your beloved know decay. 

You will show me the path of life, 

and fullness of joy in your presence, 

at your right hand happiness for ever. 

Psalm 16 



"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in 
Christ with every spiritual blessing..." (1:3). Jesus, revealing the sacred Ground of the 
Godhead; revealing the harmony of the Trinity and of the human person - where heaven 
and earth embrace. Jesus, revelation of Fullness offers us the Fullness of God. 

Luke Timothy Johnson says that the evidence claiming that Ephesians is not written by Paul is not 
conclusive. Johnson himself is of the opinion that Paul wrote it. However, Johnson says that Paul 
did have a small, faithful band close to him for years and he may have delegated one of them to 
write the document during his own lifetime. They also may have further pondered the great 
mystery that Paul preached and brought it to this height in Ephesians. This only tells us to keep 
asking the Spirit of God: What does this mean? Confer The Apostle Paul by Professor Luke 
Timothy Johnson, Video Series, Lecture 10, The Teaching Company, 2001. 

Hundreds of texts could be given; here are just a few of them: 

God blessed them saying: be fruitful and multiply... (Gen 1:22) 

all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. ..(Gen 26:4) 

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. ..(I King 1:48) 

David said: 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, for ever and ever...' 

(I Chr 9:10) 

Blessed be your glorious name which is exalted above all blessing and praise. ..(Neh:5) 

Blessed be the name of the Lord. ..(Job 1 :21 ) 

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, 

praise and exalt Him above all forever. (Dan 3:57) 

Blessed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked... 

he is like a tree that is planted beside flowing waters. ..(Ps 1 ). 

Blessed are they who put their trust in God. (Ps 2) 

O Lord of salvation, bless your people! (Ps 3). 

They are blessed (happy) whose God is the Lord...(Ps 33) 

blessed are those who fear the Lord 
and walk in his ways...(Ps 128). 

Praise you servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! 

May the name of the Lord be blessed both now and forevermore! (Ps 113) 

See a good Concordance for the hundreds of references to the themes of grace, mercy, hesed, 
covenant, agape. All were in Paul's mind. Also see "Grace," The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New 
York, 1992), Vol.2, 1085. 

It is interesting to notice that in Ephesians Paul does not use "adopted" sons or "adoption," as he 
does in Galatians. The Greek and the RSV do not have the word in this letter. The NAB (which we 
use in the Divine Office) says "adopted sons," but this is not a true to the text." 

1 have used, for the most part, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. For the Psalms I have 
used the Grail translation. 

The Jerusalem Bible has a footnote on 1 :2 which says that the references to heaven mean that the 
spiritual blessings must wait to the end of time to be fully realized. But in prayer and love, I dare 
say: they are meant to be realized now - in time. Paul did not have to wait to get a Godly glimpse 
of fullness, nor perhaps do we. 

For these thoughts on far-reaching reconciliation I am indebted to Professor Luke Timothy Johnson 
and his video series The Apostle Paul. See note 1 . 

A great Dominican, Henri Lacordaire, had these remarkable words to say: 
"Once the gospel has come into the world, Jesus sends forth his disciples to carry it to the human 
race. Go, he says to them, into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation. 
Propagation, communion, universality - these words have become the watchword for all time; and 




there, where formerly only the voice of egoism had been heard, we now hear only the footfall of 

"Saint Paul could no longer contain within himself his song of triumphant humanity, and he cried out 
There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in 
Christ Jesus. O people from the four winds of heaven, people who think you belong to different 
races and civilizations, you do not know what you are saying; you are not on this earth as millions 
upon millions; there do not exist two or three of you, you are only one! 

"Thus, we should not think of man on the one hand and humanity on the other; we should think of 
the unity of man and humanity. Whoever touches man touches humanity; and whoever touches 
humanity touches God who made it, for he is its Father and Protector" From Conference de Notre 
Dame, 267-268. Given in A Word in Season, Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours, (Augustinian 
Press, 1999), Vol. VIII, .249-250. 

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible consistently translates the Greek "kata" into "according 
to" and so does the King James II Version, the Interlinear Greek/English Bible. The Jerusalem 
Bible translates it variously, never using "according to," and the New American Bible translates it 
sometimes into "according to" and sometimes into something else. For me, to see the many 
repetitions of Paul of one same word is to wonder about the importance he gives that word and 

Cardinal John Henry Newman has some truly great sermons: 

"Why should we be unwilling to admit what it is so great a consolation to know? Why should we 
refuse to credit the transforming power and efficacy of our Lord's sacrifice? Surely he did not die 
for any common end, but in order to exalt man, who was of the dust of the field, into heavenly 
places. He did not die to leave him as he was, sinful, ignorant, and miserable. He did not die to 
see his purchased possession, as feeble in good works, as corrupt, as poor-spirited, and as 
desponding as before he came. Rather, he died to renew him after his own image, to make him a 
being he might delight and rejoice in, to make him partaker of the divine nature, to fill him within 
and without with a flood of grace and glory, to pour out upon him gift upon gift, and virtue upon 
virtue, and power upon power..." (Italics mine.) 

"Why should he linger in the doorway, praying for pardon, who has been allowed to share in the 
grace of the Lord's passion, to die with him and rise again? He is already in a capacity for higher 
things. ..His prayer thenceforth takes a higher range, and contemplates not himself merely, but 
others also. ..(he is) a confidential 'familiar friend' of the only-begotten Son of God, calm, collected, 
prepared, resolved, serene, amid this restless and unhappy world." Parochial and Plain Sermons 
III, given in A Word in Season. (See note 6.) Vol. VIII, 264-265. 

For some of these thoughts I am indebted to Peter G. van Breemen, S.J. and his book As Bread 
That Is Broken, chapter 19, "His Love is Everlasting" (Denville: Dimension Books, 1974), 161. 

Hear this psalm sung by Jesus. "My heart rejoices, My soul is glad, even My body shall rest in 
safety." My body - all of us. " Your right hand happiness forever." 


NOTE: For study purposes I found it helpful to type out Paul's long sentences and divide them. 
Then I was able to see his emerging themes, emphases, and repetitions. A sample of this method is 
given below. In my copy I used landscape and made two parallel columns. If anyone would like the 
full typed text just contact me. Several translations of the Bible have been incorporated: RSV, JB, 
NAB, KJB, Greek-Latin text. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ 

who has blessed us in Christ 

with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 

even as he chose us in him 

before the foundation of the world, 

that we should be holy and blameless before him. 

He destined us in love to be his sons 

through Jesus Christ 

according to the good pleasure of his will, 

to the praise of his glorious grace 

which he freely bestowed on us 
In the Beloved. 

In him 

we have redemption through his blood , 

the forgiveness of our sins, 

according to the riches of his grace 

which he lavished upon us 

In all wisdom and insight, 

making known to us the mystery of his will , 

according to his good pleasure, 

which he proposed in Christ, 

as a plan for the fullness of time.: 

to head up all things in Christ, 

both things in heaven and things on earth. 

In him 

according to the purpose of him 

who accomplishes all things 

according to the counsel of his will 

we who first hoped in Christ 

have been destined and appointed to live 

for the praise of his glory, 

in him, 

you also , who have heard the word of truth 

the gospel of your salvation 

and have believed in him , 

were sealed with promised Holy Spirit , 

who is the earnest [guarantee] of our inheritance, 

until we acquire possession of it, 

to the praise of his glory . 



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